Brumbies player Cam Crawford is tackled by a Welsh defender. Photo: Melissa Adams
The underdog ACT Brumbies continue to earn respect when you least expect it after the Super Rugby surprise packet almost secured one of the biggest upset wins in the club's history last night.
Despite missing their eight Wallabies representatives and injured stars Joseph Tomane, Christian Lealiifano and Matt Toomua, the baby Brumbies went down fighting to Wales 25-15 at Canberra Stadium.
For a fleeting moment late in the second half, the Brumbies and their supporters thought they could do the impossible and beat the Six Nations champions in their only mid-week match of their Australian tour.
In a sign of respect, Wales opted to kick two penalty goals in the final 12 minutes to ensure it didn't suffer the same fate as it did when it lost in Canberra in 1978 and 1996.
The conservative end to the match is proof of how much has changed at Brumbyland in the past 18 months.
Last year the side struggled to win a Super Rugby match. But under Jake White's guidance and even with players in their first professional game, the team had the belief it could beat one of the best Test teams in the world.
Had the Brumbies' first-half defence been stronger and the young team taken its chances after the break, they could have caused a major boilover. They fell short, but captain Ben Hand said the strong performance will boost the club as it chases a drought-breaking finals appearance when Super Rugby resumes on June 30.
''I think [the belief] has been on display all year … in previous years, Brumbies teams would have fallen over at half-time against an international team [and trailing 19-6],'' Hand said.
''The way in which the boys fought back was first-rate and it's a hallmark of this team.
''I did think we could win, I honestly did and we had two or three opportunities and it was just unfortunate we weren't able to take them.''
The Welsh will hope the hard-fought win will help get their trip to Australia back on track. They scored three tries in the first half and their defence was brilliant as they held the Brumbies to just five penalty goals.
Wales coach Rob Howley said: ''I think it's a job well done. To back up on any tour with a mid-week team … there was great spirit and character.
''I thought we were clinical in the first half … and the defence we had in the second half is what we'll need again [against the Wallabies].''