Brumbies crunch Tahs 23-6 at home
The Brumbies made another emphatic statement as leaders of the Australian conference with a grinding 23-6 victory over their Super Rugby arch-rivals NSW on Saturday.
The Brumbies now have a nine-point buffer at the head of the table on 35 points, edging further ahead of the Waratahs (26 points) and the Reds (25), who play the Crusaders on Sunday.
But the victory may have come at a high cost, with classy pointscoring five-eighth Christian Lealiifano reportedly suffering a suspected broken ankle.
In front of 19,122 at Canberra Stadium, the Brumbies led 13-6 heading into the second half but secured the win in impressive style in the by keeping the Waratahs scoreless after the break.
It ended NSW's three-game winning streak against the ACT franchise and also dealt the Waratahs their eighth loss on the road from their past 10 matches.
Touted as a do-or-die clash, the Waratahs threw everything at the Brumbies in the first half, running hard and showing their intent early by heading out wide.
They were every chance to open the scoring five minutes in when Kane Douglas broke through the Brumbies' line, but the visitors failed to convert the opportunity.
Dominating possession, they created multiple opportunities from that point on but looked like settling for a 6-6 scoreline when the halftime siren blew.
Lealiifano and Waratahs goalkicker Brendan McKibbin both had two penalties apiece.
But the never-say-die Brumbies kept the ball in hand for one last attack - and were amply rewarded when Henry Speight inconceivably found room on the wing for the first try of the night.
It gave the Brumbies their seven-point halftime buffer and dealt the Waratahs a psychological blow as they headed to the changerooms.
In an arm-wrestle, Andrew Smith's try four minutes into the second half all but crushed the Waratahs' hopes.
Brumbies coach Jake White said Lealiifano was set to miss the remainder of the season and conceded it took the gloss off an otherwise important win.
"It does and you can see it in the body language of the players," he said.
"It would have been great to have a bye and have everyone fit, but ... knowing Christian, he's not going to want us to get into a downward spiral.
"It's just another challenge chucked at this group ... but every challenge they've had, they've stepped up to the plate."
Robbie Coleman and Zack Holmes loom as potential replacements at five-eighth for Lealiifano, who had been strongly pressing his claim for a Wallabies jersey after a breakout season.
White is still reluctant to rate the Brumbies' finals chances, adding that Lealiifano's injury could throw them a curve ball for the final leg of the season.
NSW coach Michael Foley rued his squad's wasted opportunities and said Smith's second try epitomised what got the Brumbies over the line.
"Great work by the Brumbies to control possession for long periods in our 22 to get that second try," he said.
"It was probably the single biggest difference between the two teams - the Brumbies being able to build pressure over time to get points."
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