HIGHLANDERS 19 BRUMBIES 30
Old foes: George Smith of the Brumbies runs past Brad Thorn of the Highlanders. Photo: Getty Images
The Brumbies have found their Super Rugby mojo and beating the Highlanders in Dunedin will be a massive boost for their finals dreams.
But Brumbies coach Jake White has warned his team the race to the play-offs is "a marathon, not a sprint" as they hold on to top spot on the ladder halfway through the season.
Joe Tomane's long range try sealed the win for the Brumbies. Photo: Getty Images
In a grinding and gutsy performance built on defence, the Brumbies restored order to keep the Highlanders winless this season with a 30-19 triumph at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Most would have penciled it in as a win for White's men before kick-off given the Highlanders are languishing at the bottom of the ladder.
But after failing to deliver a killer blow to competition newcomers the Southern Kings last week, toppling the Highlanders was never going to be easy.
Highlanders v Brumbies
Action from the round nine Super Rugby clash between the Brumbies and the Highlanders. Photo: www.photosport.co.nz
In the end the Brumbies scored three tries to one and never trailed in the 11-point win.
And while at times it was disjointed, and ill-discipline gave the Highlanders opportunities to get back into the contest, it could be a season-defining victory.
The Brumbies are now preparing for a blockbuster Australian derby with the Queensland Reds at Suncorp Stadium next week.
Henry Speight showed poise to score the Brumbies first try. Photo: Getty Images
The winner will stake a massive claim for Australia's guaranteed spot in the finals.
"I said when I landed here that to win in New Zealand is not easy," White said.
"A mate just sent me a text and said remember this is a marathon, not a sprint in the tournament. That sums up exactly where we are.
"Little wins like this add up, but there's a long way to go before we get to the play-offs.
"Last week [against the Kings] just showed that if you're not at the top of your game, you can be turned around quickly."
The win reaffirms the Brumbies' standing as the best Australian team.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans has rewarded their early season form with 11 players in a Test squad which will meet in Sydney on Sunday.
It's the biggest representation of any Australian team and a turnaround from when White took over at the start of 2012 and had just three Wallabies at his disposal.
While the Brumbies are back flying high, the struggling Highlanders are now trying to recover from the worst to a season in their history.
They are at the bottom of the ladder and have lost all seven games.
The Highlanders boast 10 All Blacks and a Japanese scrumhalf in their line-up and were never going to be a walkover.
But the Brumbies' resilient defence ensured they won the game and kept the desperate Highlanders searching for some luck.
The Brumbies got off to a flying start when Henry Speight showed poise to score down the right wing after just three minutes.
When George Smith crossed 25 minutes later the Brumbies looked like they would streak away to an easy win.
But they gave away too many penalties and third-string Highlanders flyhalf Hayden Parker booted four goals to keep his team within reach.
It wasn't until Brumbies winger Joseph Tomane swooped on a loose ball early in the second half and raced 50 metres that the Brumbies were comfortably in front.
"This is just a win ... we would have taken a 3-0 win but to score three tries and win by 11 points is a massive boost for us," White said.
"What I'm really proud of is there's a massive turn in the way we presented ourselves after last week and everyone could see the effort levels rise."
The match wasn't without its controversy with Highlanders winger Hosea Gear denied what appeared to be a certain try just before half-time.
Television match official Keith Brown ruled Gear lost the ball when everyone in the stadium thought he had grounded it over the line.
The Brumbies were far from perfect and readily admit they still have plenty to work on.
But like a well-drilled outfit, they took their minimal opportunities and shut the Highlanders out of the contest.
BRUMBIES 30 (George Smith, Henry Speight, Joseph Tomane tries Christian Lealiifano 3 cons Lealiifano 2, Nic White pens) bt HIGHLANDERS 19 (Aaron Smith try Hayden Parker con 4 pens) at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Referee: Chris Pollock.