The Brumbies made up for last week's disappointing display in Christchurch by beating the Highlanders 22-20 in the Super 14 on Saturday.
After a crashing start by the visitors, including a try for Fetu'u Vainikolo, the home side found their rhythm and pounded the discipline out of the Otago side in the first half, taking a 17-7 half-time lead.
The Highlanders managed to build some continuity of their own early in the second half, with full-back James Wilson landing a couple of penalties to reduce arrears, but then the Brumbies found their poise again, and Stephen Hoiles crashed over for the crucial try on the hour mark.
The game started with a bang, eased off for much of the middle, but picked up again towards the end.
It was helped in many respects by referee Craig Joubert, who tended to take a very dim view of any negative play and thus gave far more penalties than we have become accustomed to seeing under the new laws. As a result, the game had a more familiar chess-like strategic feel to it, with the cat-and-mouse punctuated by breathless bursts of ELV-inspired all-action.
Both sides scored early on. The Highlanders recycled several phases of possession from the kick-off, culminating in wing Fetu'u Vainikolo bursting through under the posts.
The Brumbies replied in kind, keeping the ball through phase after phase for a more or less uninterrupted five minutes during which the Highlanders conceded no less than five free-kicks or penalties, and at at the end of which centre Anthony Faingaa took the switch off fly-half Chris Lealiifano and also burst under the poles. Ten minutes had elapsed, and we had a try apiece as a result of good controlled possession by both teams.
Unfortunately for the viewers, that was pretty much it for the first half. The Highlanders' game descended into an error-littered bog, while the home team contrived to butcher several scoring opportunities.
The Highlanders forwards also contrived to concede needless penalty after free-kick - it was a wonder Joubert did not reach for his pocket in the opening quarter. Perhaps he felt that the penalty landed by Julian Huxley in the 24th minute was punishment enough.
But after a half-hour dominated by the patient and careful Brumby control, there came a foul that yielded maximum punishment, even if only half-disciplinary sanction. More good Brumby work saw the ball swung out left to Huia Edmonds, whose inexorable passage to the line was stopped only by the high arm of Hayden Triggs. Triggs saw yellow, while Joubert took the try under the posts rather than where Edmonds may or may not have touched down. It was 17-7, a richly-deserved lead for the Brumbies.
Rarely did the ball get out beyond the Highlanders centres of their own accord, but the second half saw the hitherto disparate and lax pack begin to motor. Two penalties for offside, both a result of breaks after repeated forward grunt, were landed by James Wilson to bring the score back to 17-13 and a third penalty was tapped by Alando Soakai, only for the openside to hold on to the ball inches from the line.
The Brumbies turned the heat up again having got out of jail, and the crucial score came on the hour, when Stephen Hoiles burst down the left to the corner, taking three defenders with him as he blundered over the line.
Back came the Highlanders, with all three loose forwards prominent as they smashed at the home defence. Stephen Setephano was expertly held up over the line by Hoiles, but from the scrum the ball went through a couple of phases and then left for prop Chris King to score. Wilson's conversion made it 22-20.
Wilson had a chance of winning it with a penalty eight minutes from time, but he pulled the kick, and then in the final minute, a scintillating break from Highlanders wing Paul Williams had he and his team into the Brumbies' 22, only for Toby Morland to knock the ball on at the base of the ruck.
Man of the match: It was tricky to pick one out, but we'll opt for Stephen Hoiles, who provided the crucial moments in his team's win at both ends of the field as a result of his ceaseless work-rate.
Moment of the match: Paul Williams' last-minute break had our pulses racing! But the choice of moments was limited, to say the least.
Villain of the match: The Highlanders' barber. All those mullets!
For the Brumbies:
Tries: Faingaa, penalty try, Hoiles
Cons: Huxley 2
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Vainikolo, King
Cons: Wilson 2
Pens: Wilson 2
Yellow card: Triggs (Highlanders, 34, high tackle)
Brumbies: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Tyrone Smith, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joshua Holmes, 8 Stephen Hoiles, 7 George Smith (captain), 6 Mitchell Chapman, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Alister Campbell, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Salesi Ma'afu, 18 Peter Kimlin, 19 Julian Salvi, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Peter Playford, 22 Afusipa Taumoepeau.
Highlanders: 15 James Wilson, 14 Paul Williams, 13 Niva Ta'auso, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Daniel Bowden, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Hayden Triggs, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Jason Macdonald (c), 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Chris King, 18 Isaac Ross, 19 Ezra Taylor, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Brett Mather.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Touch judges: Pro Legoete (South Africa), James Scholtens (Australia)
Television match official: Geoff Acton (Australia)
Assessor: Scott Young (Australia)