ACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has hailed David Pocock's man of the match performance against the Free State Cheetahs as one of the best games he has seen the superstar flanker play.
The Brumbies will return to Canberra having won two of three games on their road trip to Perth and South Africa to keep a slender buffer on the Australian conference table.
Brumbies end road trip on high
The Brumbies have wrapped up their road trip with a 25-18 win over the Cheetahs.
The Brumbies put a week of off-field club turmoil behind them to end their South Africa tour on a high, beating the Cheetahs 25-18 in Bloemfontein on Sunday morning.
Pocock was outstanding around the field, forcing four breakdown turnovers and constantly causing the Cheetahs headaches whenever he was near the ball.
It prompted Larkham to label it one of the best of Pocock's career in what turned out to be a brutal breakdown battle and a tight contest that prevented both teams from streaking away.
"I thought David Pocock had a tremendous game, one of the best games I've seen him have. Both with his work at the breakdown and in the contact area was outstanding," Larkham said.
"Across the park it was a contest [at the breakdown] ... there will be aspects we're not happy with but defensively they didn't get many phases because our work was really good."
The Brumbies scored three tries to two to ensure they remained clear at the top of the Australian conference with four wins from their five games so far this season.
The hard-fought win on the highveld was crucial to keeping the Brumbies fast start to the season on track as they face the Chiefs at GIO Stadium in Canberra on Saturday night.
"Credit to the Cheetahs, they really showed their skill and what they can do. They're a very dangerous team, as we saw," Pocock said.
"We were really disappointed in Cape Town going down to a good Stormers team [last week] but we weren't good enough on the night. To get the win here, it was a bit of a grind, as we expected so it's good to go home with a win."
The win was an even more important win given the drama in the Brumbies back office during the build up, which will heat up again when the squad returns to the capital this week.
Highlanders too hot for Rebels
High-flying Melbourne Rebels brought back to earth by defending champions Highlanders.
The Brumbies board stood down chief executive Michael Jones on Monday in reaction to a radio interview, but Jones gained an injunction against the decision and was free to return to work less than 24 hours later.
Larkham managed to shield the players from the controversy, helped by a nine-hour time difference and being in a different country.
"There was good focus from the boys. [There] was a bit of turmoil back home but hopefully that will be sorted out next week when we get back," Larkham said.
"Internally we just had our focus here on the game. We had a bit of disappointment [against the Cape Town Stormers] last week ... we did enough to get through that game [against the Cheetahs], but it was physical and a really gutsy effort."
The Brumbies got off to a blistering start against the Cheetahs and went almost the length of the field to score a try just 30 seconds into the match.
The try was disallowed because of a forward pass in the lead up, but it didn't dent the Brumbies' power when Ita Vaea crossed the line just minutes later to open up a lead.
From there the Brumbies never relinquished their lead and held the Cheetahs at bay for the rest of the match.
Aidan Toua and Ben Alexander scored tries to open up a comfortable buffer, but the Cheetahs refused to back down and Sergeal Petersen scored with time running out to cut the margin to 10 points.
Both teams had players sent to the sin bin at different stages, and the Brumbies were penalised 16 times. In their first five games they have been hit with four yellow cards and a red card.
Asked what impressed him, Larkham said: "The way we won. It wasn't clean for either side and there was a lot of physicality. At times we matched the flair that the Cheetahs got and at other times I think our set piece was spot on. The biggest thing we take out of it is the effort."
Rain at half-time turned the game into a slog and the Cheetahs upped the tempo at the set piece to put pressure on the Brumbies.
It worked for in slowing the Brumbies down but they couldn't take advantage of their dominance and it was the ACT side that extended their lead.
Pocock was outstanding at the breakdown, forcing multiple turnovers and helping the Brumbies get into attacking territory.
It resulted in prop Alexander crossing the line after the ball popped out of Allan Alaalatoa's control to open up a 25-8 gap.
The Cheetahs rallied late, with winger Petersen scoring in the corner to cut the margin to 10 points with four minutes remaining. But they had to settle for a last-minute penalty goal and a losing bonus point as the Brumbies finished their trip with a hard fought win.
AT A GLANCE
ACT BRUMBIES 25 (Ita Vaea, Aidan Toua, Ben Alexander tries; Christian Lealiifano, Matt Toomua conversions; Christian Lealiifano penalty) bt FREE STATE CHEETAHS 18 (Uzair Cassiem, Sergeal Petersen tries; Niel Marais 2 penalties, conversion) at Bloemfontein, South Africa. Referee: Glen Jackson.