Brumbies lock Scott Fardy wins a lineout. Photo: Colleen Petch
IT WAS heartbreaking and frustrating, but the ACT Brumbies are adamant their nail-biting loss to the Queensland Reds will not ruin their Super Rugby dreams as coach Jake White declared: ''We've got a belief we can win the competition.''
The Brumbies fell painfully short of toppling the defending champions at Canberra Stadium last night with the Reds holding on for a 13-12 win.
In an intense battle, the weight of expectation landed on rookie flyhalf Zack Holmes in the dying seconds when the Brumbies won a penalty which could have clinched a remarkable come-from-behind win.
But despite his superb kicking record in his limited experience, Holmes's shot from 38 metres out sailed less than a metre wide of the left post and the Reds left Canberra with their finals hopes still alive.
The Brumbies had built up the top-of-the-Australian-conference clash as a Super Rugby final.
Had they won they could have almost guaranteed themselves a spot in the finals for the first time in seven seasons.
But with four regular-season rounds remaining, the Reds and Brumbies are now neck-and-neck fighting for the one guaranteed spot for an Australian team.
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie turned the blowtorch on the Brumbies by saying: ''How do they come back from that?''
However, White insisted the one-point loss had not dented his young team's confidence.
Instead, White said it had given his team more self-belief as they chase a playoffs berth.
''If you put things in perspective, they've [the Reds] probably got more Test caps than we have Super Rugby caps, it's not all doom and gloom,'' White said.
''It was an opportunity to beat the champions … to get that close to a championship team means there are a lot of positives there.
''We're still top of [the ladder], we still have a chance to win our conference and we still have our destiny in our own hands.
''What a wonderful position to be in … there's a lot of rugby left, we've got a belief we can win the competition and now I think the belief is even bigger.''
The Brumbies and Reds were locked in a brutal contest for 70 minutes.
Reds fullback Luke Morahan was the only try-scorer in the match when he put on a burst of individual brilliance to gather a kick, chip and chase and win the race to the ball to open the scoring.
From there Mike Harris and Holmes traded penalty goals with both defences refusing to budge.
It was the first time in five seasons the Brumbies had failed to score a try in a match at home.
The Brumbies were superb under pressure. For almost 10 minutes the Reds peppered their try line to try to deliver the killer blow.
But just when the contest seemed over, Saia Faingaa gave away a penalty at the breakdown and Holmes courageously stepped up to take what could have been a match-winning shot.
Holmes had been suffering cramp for 15 minutes in just his second starting XV appearance.
And despite having just 200 minutes of Super Rugby experience, he almost slotted a shot which could have catapulted the Brumbies clear in the Australian conference.
Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen praised the 21-year-old after the match and his teammates surrounded him to offer their support.
''He's a tough little bugger, he cramped quite chronically and we got that penalty and he demanded to be the one taking the shot,'' Mowen said. ''That's what you want, guys stepping up in those hard times.
''He knows he's either the guy who won the game … he's just a fighter and one of the guys who has huge character.''
Mowen said the Brumbies would benefit from the experience of pushing last year's champion side.
''The way we fought off our line, the discipline we had … I take heaps of positives out of the change in temperament this team has,'' he said.