Bittersweet victory as A.C.T. loses Lealiifano
Brumbies v Waratahs at Canberra Stadium
Brumbies players gather around injured Chirstian Lealiifano to sing the team song. Photo: Getty Images
THIS one was for Christian.
In the sanctuary of the team's dressing shed, the ACT Brumbies rallied around stretcher-bound flyhalf Christian Lealiifano to belt out their most passionate victory song of the season.
The fact the Brumbies had just beaten their arch rivals, the NSW Waratahs, 23-6 and in the process took a firm grip on Super Rugby's Australian conference, seemed almost irrelevant as Jake White's men went to the aid of the second No.10 to have his year cruelly cut short.
Lealiifano had a blinder, controlling play, directing traffic and slotting crucial penalty goals - the same thing's he's been doing since taking over from Matt Toomua, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the round six loss to the Durban Sharks on March 31.
Then, as time expired on the Canberra Stadium scoreboard, Lealiifano's season was over.
His ankle was caught under a NSW player, Brumbies officials last night unsure whether it was a break or a fracture.
What they did know was his season was over.
''That's it, he's gone for the season,'' Brumbies coach Jake White said.
''However bad it is, I'm not sure, but it's bad enough to know he won't be playing for the rest of the year.''
Play was delayed for several minutes as Lealiifano was escorted from the field on a medicab.
The Canberra Times understands the 24-year-old was cracking jokes and appeared in good spirits, although White believed that was caused by the laughing gas he was given.
The Brumbies are nine points clear of the Waratahs at the top of the Australian conference with eight games to go, and are in the box seat to qualify for the finals for the first time since 2004.
The question now is - can they do it without their two first-choice flyhalves?
''It's just another challenge that gets chucked at this group,'' White said.
''Every challenge they've had they've stepped up to the plate.
''We've got Zach Holmes and Robbie Coleman who can play at 10.
''I don't think Christian would want to harp on the fact that he's out.
''When Matt was out we got on with it and Christian stepped up to the plate.
''I don't think it's hit him yet, he was in a massive amount of pain.
''He probably doesn't know the extent of the injury yet and he'll go through a hard time.''
Waratahs coach Michael Foley believed White would come up with a plan to ensure the Brumbies remained a force for the rest of the season.
''I do think the spirit they've got there, they'll find a way [to cope without Lealiifano],'' Foley said.
''It's obviously a challenge when you're losing key players but they coped well with [Matt] Toomua's absence and I'm sure Jake [White] will have a plan up his sleeve.''
The Brumbies crossed for 11 tries in their two games in South Africa against the Pretoria Bulls and the Johannesburg Lions.
But that free-flowing style was never going to be possible against their traditional rivals.
Just when it appeared the large Canberra Stadium crowd of 19,122 would sit through an entire half without a try, Brumbies winger Henry Speight woke them from their slumber with a marvellous piece of footwork down the right touchline.
With the siren sounding, Speight produced a lovely in and away to stand up his opposite Peter Betham, tip-toeing his way millimetres inside the chalk to give the hosts a 13-6 lead at the break.