An exemplary fly-half display full of variety and precision from Matt Giteau gave the western Force a 25-16 Super 14 victory over the team Giteau has signed for next year, the Brumbies, at Bruce stadium on Saturday.
Cameron Shepherd ran in a hat-trick of tries for the Force, capitalising on his playmaker's enterprise in ruthless fashion as the men from Perth finally lived up to their potential.
A typical Aussie derby: lots of bluster, scrapping, endeavour, precious little coolness, execution, or space. The Force produced their best half of rugby of the season by some distance in the first half, yet trailed 9-8 at the break, it was this failure to turn a 60-40 possession and territory advantage into an equally significant lead that could have cost them. Fortunately, they suffered no such problem in the second half, even if the stats were a little more even.
The Brumbies scrapped for everything at the breakdown with gusto, turning stacks of ball over in defence early on. Their problems came at the line-out, where Nathan sharpe and Tom Hockings were air traffic controllers, and at fly-half where Christian Lealiifano was given a lesson by the man who will end up his mentor next season. Eventually, even the breakdown ball dried up and the Brumbies were left with nothing to play with.
Anybody doubting that Matt Giteau would be able to produce the goods against the team he has signed for for next year was given a good hard hand-off. Giteau dictated superbly with the boot and the hand, bouncing balls into touch with barely any space to aim at to win his side their field position.
His passing was also the key for all the Force's tries, the first a precision pass hung in front of Ryan Cross for the centre to drift on to, the second a super pair of quick precise hands for Cameron Shepherd to steam home just after the break, the third a deftly-timed pop for the onrushing Junior Pelesasa, the fourth a cheeky offload to Ben Castle. All skills on display tonight from one of the best in the world.
By contrast, Lealiifano was often too close to the pocket and direct with his passing to his centres. There was little variety. The running threat of Stirling Mortlock was staunched and Lealiifano's alternative strategy was hard to see, as was any discernible targetting to his kicking. It was a steep learning curve for the Brumbies pivot who ended up marked out of the game by the concentrated Force defence.
Mark Gerrard gave his side the lead early on from the tee after an offside, but with Giteau's boot keeping the home side penned in their own half, it was the Force who should have led. Cameron Shepherd had a good chance after ten minutes from Giteau's boot, Richard Brown couldn't quite capitalise on a charge-down of Mark Gerrard's kick.
The best chance of all fell to Junior Pelesasa, after Shepherd and Ryan Cross had launched a super counter-attack, but the centre just couldn't grab the pass under pressure.
Instead, it was the Brumbies who scored next, with Gerrard landing a second penalty given for an offside, on a rare foray into Force territory.
when the Force did score a try, it was magnificent. A terrific flat hanging pass from Giteau for Cross to drift onto and beat his man outside, followed by a well-timed pass to put Shepherd into the space at the corner. A textbook try, one of those rare scores direct from the first phase.
Gerrard extended the lead to 9-5 with a penalty for a high tackle, but Giteau made it 9-8 on the stroke of half-time when a Brumby strayed offside.
The Force opened the second half in super fashion. The ruckers tightened up their act while maintaining their defence and Giteau struck immediately, well-timed hands sending Shepherd over in the same left corner.
Pelesasa's break through four tackles on 50 minutes gave Richard Brown the Force's third - a try awarded by the TMO much to the incredulity of the Brumbies who thought Brown had been held up.
Another rare foray into Force territory gave the Brumbies precious points as the scrum screwed out a penalty try from their tiring opposition but two minutes later Shepherd put the result beyond doubt, scampering down the left once more.
Man of the match: Have I not made it plain already? Matt Giteau of course!
For the Brumbies:
Try: Penalty try
Pens: Gerrard 3
For the Force:
Tries: Shepherd 3, Brown
Brumbies: 15 Mark Gerrard, 14 Clyde Rathbone, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Stirling Mortlock, 11 Francis Fainifo, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Patrick Phibbs, 8 Stephen Hoiles (c), 7 George Smith, 6 Julian Salvi, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Ben Hand, 3 Guy Shepherdson, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Peter Kimlin, 20 Joshua Holmes, 21 Matt Toomua, 22 Tyrone Smith.
Western Force: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Cameron Shepherd, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Junior Pelesasa, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 Ben Castle, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18 Richard Stanford, 19 Tamaiti Horua, 20 Chris O'Young, 21 James O'Connor, 22 Haig Sare.
Referee: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Touch judges: Nathan Pearce (Australia), Brett Bowden (Australia)
TMO: Geoff Acton (Australia)