The ACT Brumbies convincingly beat the Waratahs 36-10 in the Australian derby on Sunday in the Super 14, claiming their first try bonus point of the season in the process.
A brace of tries each for both Mark Gerrard and Stephen Larkham as well as a close-range effort for the marauding Jone Tawake was more than enough for the Brumbies to out-class and out-muscle a disappointing Waratahs side.
What contrasting effects this result has on these two Australian heavyweights! The bonus-point win takes the Brumbies into fourth place giving them more than a fighting chance to make the play-offs come the end of the regular season, while the Waratahs remain one from bottom of the league with just a single win to their name.
Although it took just over an hour to wrap up the bonus point and victory the Brumbies never looked like losing this encounter. In fact the writing was on the wall from the third minute when Mark Gerrard glided over for the opening score.
From the first real attacking line-out five metres out from the Waratahs 22m the Brumbies moved the ball wide with good effect. Once over the gain line George Gregan used big Mark Chisholm to gain some hard yards before moving it wide. Larkham got the fend going to force his way through before firing a delightful pass out to Gerrard who went in unopposed.
An eighth-minute Peter Hewat penalty reduced the gap to just two pints but the rest of the half was one-way traffic from the Brumbies, as they gradually found their straps and began to dominate in some style. The pressure soon told allowing Julian Huxley to send over a penalty resulting from off-side by the Waratahs back-line.
With Larkham and Huxley causing all sorts of problems with their elusive running it wasn't long before the two combined to tear the Waratahs to pieces. Huxley deep in his own half gathered a lose kick and set off with some purpose. Having done the damage he fed inside to Larkham who took the attack into the Waratahs 22m before a tackle was made. Eight tight phases later Gregan fed Tawake who crashed over down the blind-side, Huxley adding the extras.
Half-time was beckoning, and it couldn't come soon enough for the ragged Waratahs, but there was more punishment in store for them. Ten metres inside their own half and with seemingly few options Huxley saw space on the blind and linked with Larkham to exploit the space. Outpacing Adam Freier and David Lyons Huxley opened up options down the blind.
Gerrard was steaming up on his outside and took the pass to take Sam Norton-Knight out of the game. Hewat made a valiant effort to cut Gerrard off but Gerrard cooly stepped back inside him to cross for his second. With Huxley's conversion it was looking ominous for the Waratahs as the hooter sounded.
The start of the second half witnessed the best the Waratahs had to offer, and they got their just reward - a converted Rocky Elsom try. After sixteen phases of play the Brumbies eventually started to creak in defence, although it took a superb one handed basketball style pass from Lyons to release Elsom on the wide right to slam over.
At 22-10 there was a glimmer of hope for the Waratahs, and when Huxley missed two simple penalties in quick succession it seemed as if the tide might be turning. Again the Waratahs went through sixteen phases taking them to within inches of the Brumbies' line, but a knock on from Elsom at the breakdown allowed Larkham to hammer the ball downfield and ultimately give the Brumbies the field position they needed.
The bonus point-try was arguably the best of the night. The ball came off the top from a shortened line-out, with Larkham coming onto the ball at pace. He had George Smith on his shoulder and used the burly flanker to hammer a dent into the defence. The ball came back quickly and all of a sudden the Brumbies had numbers and were coming onto the ball at pace. Gerrard took a flat pass from Larkham and powered through before sending a blind pass back on the inside to Gene Fairbanks. He was downed but again the ball came quickly and again to Larkham attacked the blind, his fend was a strong one and he was in out wide.
Larkham's try brought up the Brumbies first try bonus point of the 2007 Super 14, and ultimately took them into the play-off places just above the Force. With a taste for the try-line Larkham, who was back to near his best, helped himself to a second and the Brumbies fifth score as the game faded out.
Fairbanks did the initial damage before being hauled down just short of the line. Gregan whipped it out to Larkham who had a four-man overlap to his right. The Waratahs defence realising this began to drift, allowing Larkham to throw a simple dummy and waltz in under the posts.
The Brumbies, after a mixed start to the season are beginning to look like the side they have come to be known as, a dangerous attacking team with a solid defence. It is no coincidence that it links in with the return to form of Larkham, who ran the game superbly, aided by the ever impressive Julian Huxley.
The Waratahs have only pride left to play for now as they languish one from the bottom of the league and will be looking at least to gain some respectability to their campaign in the closing weeks of the tournament.
Man of the Match: Julian Huxley was again in fine form with ball in hand, although his goal-kicking still needs some attention. However it was his partner in crime Stephen Larkham who takes the award tonight. He mixed his kicking and running game with great effect and caused countless problems for the Waratahs defence. Two tries to boot for the Aussie play-maker, and all-in-all a near complete performance.
Tries: Gerrard 2, Larkham 2, Tawake
Cons: Huxley 2, Gerrard 2
Brumbies: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Clyde Rathbone, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Gene Fairbanks, 11 Mark Gerrard, 10 Stephen Larkham, 9 George Gregan, 8 Stephen Hoiles, 7 George Smith (c), 6 Jone Tawake, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Jeremy Paul, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Salesi Ma'afu, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Julian Salvi, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Matthew Carraro, 22 Francis Fainifo
Waratahs: 15 Peter Hewat, 14 Lachlan Turner, 13 Morgan Turinui, 12 Sam Harris, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Sam Norton-Knight, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 David Lyons, 7 Tim Davidson, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Will Caldwell, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Adam Freier (c), 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements - from: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Dean Mumm, 19 Beau Robinson, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kurtley Beale, 22 Ben Jacobs, 23 Daniel Halangahu, 24 Dave Dennis
Referee: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Touch judges: Brett Bowden (Australia), George Ayoub (Australia)
Television match official: Geoff Acton (Australia)
Assessor: Ian Scotney (Australia)