The Brumbies weathered some early inconsistencies to brush aside the Cheetahs with a bonus-point 29-23 victory at Canberra Stadium on Friday.
Trailing 13-12 at the break, the home team had struggled initially to find their rhythm, coughing up far too much ball at the set piece and failing to find the right running angles to breach the Cheetahs' line.
But the second half saw the Brumbies find their rhythm and run in two more tries to set up a commanding 29-13 lead which never looked in danger despite a late Tewis de Bruyn score.
It was a match in which both teams needed to prove themselves: the Brumbies needed to bounce back from their battering at the hands of the Hurricanes last week, and the Cheetahs needed to show they could last longer. How many times have they lost from winning positions this term?
The Brumbies succeeded, the Cheetahs did not. Obviously home advantage helped, but the Cheetahs meekly let the Brumbies back into the game when they could have upped the tempo and sealed the deal.
High quality the game was not. Both teams lost near to half their line-out ball, and conceded numerous turnovers. Even on turnover ball, caution ruled the thinking and the result was a lot of kicking of variable quality.
What eventually separated them was a level of finesse from the Brumbies that the Cheetahs could not find. A number of times the Cheetahs had good-looking positions, but the runners would just arrive too late or at the wrong angle. When the Brumby backs did eventually start to carve some holes, their support and lines were on time and deadly.
Discipline also cost the Cheetahs. With Heinrich Brussouw having been warned for the same offence not four minutes previously, Falie Oelschig released a string of expletives aimed at... well, someone. Steve Walsh flourished a yellow card, two minutes later Tyrone Smith went over for the third try and the Cheetahs began the final quarter nine points adrift and with 14 men. Bad language, worse timing.
Neither side got a hold of the game in the first twenty. Conrad Barnard landed an early penalty to give the Cheetahs the lead, in the midst of a lot of kicking from hand, the ball booming back and forth from one 22 to the other.
But with the first truly flowing piece of play of the game, the Brumbies took the lead. One such booming kick was fielded by Mark Gerrard, who took the ball into contact. A swift long pair of passes to the left saw Peter Playford scampering down the right, and the support did well to provide quick ball when he was tackled. Out it went left to Mark Chisholm, who broke the line and then rumbled all the way to the corner from 40m. Gerrard converted.
It ought to have been a platform for the Brumbies to run away with things, they were the superior team with ball in hand - Francis Fainifo made one superb break. But a fragility at the set piece cost them dear, and it eventually cost them the lead. The Cheetahs pack - which forced some ten scrum resets on Brumby ball where not one Cheetah scrum was reset - wheeled one scrum to turn the ball over, and from the possession at the next the ball was swung wide to Jongi Nokwe for a try. Barnard made it 7-10.
But finesse came back to haunt them. Gerrard won another kicking duel with ease, and from the attacking position the pressure on the defence caused a pair of free-kicks. Two quick taps later, Playford was over in the corner, Gerrard missing the extras.
Barnard, who had missed a penalty earlier on as well, landed one on the stroke of half-time to give his side a 13-12 lead - it was a poignant fact of the first half that the Cheetahs had scored - or at least had a shot for goal - on pretty much every visit to the Brumby 22. Not the same could be said for the Brumbies.
The second half started with both fair and foul for the Brumbies. Gerrard made a terrific line-break, and from the resulting ruck, the ball was swung left to Leali'ifano, but the final pass was deemed a fraction forward. No matter, referee Walsh came back to award a penalty about 15m from the posts, but Gerrard inexplicably hooked it.
He made less of a hash of his next chance ten minutes later when the Cheetahs strayed offside at a ruck following a Francis Fainifo break down the left, putting the Brumbies back in the lead at 15-13, and then his own break five minutes later caused enough consternation that Brussouw's tongue was loosened. Three minutes later Oelschig was sent to the bin, and on the hour mark, Smith had acres of space to crash over under the posts. Gerrard made it 22-13.
It pretty much killed the game off. Five minutes later Mitchell Chapman took an offload from Julian Salvi's burst through some tired tackles and dotted down for the bonus point, with Gerrard making it 29-13 from the tee, and then the Brumbies cruised. Tewis de Bruyn scored from close range for the Cheetahs with ten to go, but there was little threat from the visitors thereafter. Jacques-Louis Potgieter nicked them a bonus point with the final kick of the game, but there is little bonus to be found in a record that reads played six, won none.
The Brumbies will be looking to better things - next up is a bye, and then some of their injured troops return, not least Stirling Mortlock.
Man of the match: There weren't too many stand-out performances on either side. Mark Gerrard played well and led the team with maturity. Falie Oelschig was playing well until he lost his head, and Stephen Hoiles menaced. But Mark Chisholm reminded us - and perhaps Robbie Deans as well - that he is just a good a six as he is a five with a lung-busting display, capped with a terrific try.
Moment of the match: Chisholm's try.
Villain of the match: Go and stand in the corner in shame, Falie Oelschig, for blue tinge you lent to the air!
For the Brumbies:
Tries: Chisholm, Playford, Tyrone Smith, Chapman
Cons: Gerrard 3
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Nokwe, De Bruyn
Cons: Barnard, Potgieter
Pens: Barnard 2, Potgieter
Yellow card: Oelschig (Cheetahs, 57, bad language)
Brumbies: 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Peter Playford, 13 Sanualio Afeaki, 12 Tyrone Smith, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Josh Holmes, 8 Stephen Hoiles, 7 George Smith (c), 6 Mitchell Chapman, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Salesi Maafu, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Guy Shepherdson, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Julian Salvi, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 22 Matt Toomua.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Eddie Fredericks, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Conrad Barnard, 9 Falie Oelschig, 8 Duanne Vermeulen, 7 Darron Nell, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Barend Pieterse, 4 Rory Duncan (c), 3 Kobus Calldo, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 CJ van der Linde, 18 David de Villiers, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Hendrik Meyer.
Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand), Daniel Cheever (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub