Joe Tomane of the Brumbies drives over for a try. Photo: Gallo Images
THE ACT Brumbies left Canberra as a young squad but will return with a slice of history and the growing belief they can be a genuine Super Rugby contender this year.
The Brumbies ended their two-week stint in South Africa in the best possible way when they thrashed the Johannesburg Lions 34-20 at Ellis Park yesterday morning.
The win made Jake White's new generation team just the third in Brumbies history to secure seven competition points or more on a two-game tour of South Africa.
Suddenly an unexpected seven-season drought-breaking finals appearance is within reach, with the Brumbies leading the Australian conference by six points.
But while they have already eclipsed their win tally from last season - beating the Lions was their fifth victory - the Brumbies are refusing to mention the ''f'' word and are adamant they remain grounded despite their amazing turnaround.
''Still don't want to think about [finals],'' White said. ''We can't get ahead of ourselves, now we just worry about the [NSW] Waratahs this week.
''If teams are sitting up and people are saying the Brumbies can now win [games], it's a great accolade to this group because everyone thought we were going to come last.
''The bottom line is there are a massive amount of positives out of that.''
The 14-point win marked a remarkable turnaround from a year ago when a loss to the Lions was one of the lowest point in the club's history.
Now the new era is gaining respect for their brilliant play and their never-say-die attitude.
They lost to the Pretoria Bulls last week, but secured two bonus points for losing by less than seven points and scoring five tries.
The winning margin against the Lions could have been far bigger had Jesse Mogg and Christian Lealiifano been on target, the duo only nailing two of eight penalty and conversion attempts.
But they left Johannesburg last night beaming with satisfaction.
Just two other Brumbies teams in Super Rugby history have left South Africa with a better record.
In 2000 and 2002 they returned to Canberra with two wins from two matches. Those teams boasted greats such as George Gregan, Stirling Mortlock, Stephen Larkham, Joe Roff and George Smith.
But stand-in skipper Stephen Moore said the little-known Brumbies were forging their own successful path despite lacking established star power.
''I felt [there was something special] from the moment I came back into pre-season,'' Moore said.
''We still haven't achieved anything and we're still learning, but everyone is working hard and it's a positive environment.
''I don't think I've ever come to South Africa and gone home with seven points … I'm over the moon and it's great for the group.''
Winger Henry Speight scored a double, props Ruaidhri Murphy and Ben Alexander got across the line and Andrew Smith scored his second try in two weeks. But the play that impressed White the most was when Lions winger Deon van Rensburg intercepted and four Brumbies ran him down over 70 metres to prevent him scoring.
The Brumbies' focus is now on NSW and their clash at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night.
''It's phenomenal that this young group has been able to do what it has done here,'' White said. ''We stuck to the things we practiced and the things we've been working on for a long time are coming to fruition. Things are slowly coming together for us as a group.''