Queanbeyan lock Matthew Hirst gives opposite number Darragh O'Byrne some rough treatment. Photo: Stuart Walmsley
THEY didn't have a coach and were starved of possession, but Xavier Duffy emerged as the Gungahlin Eagles' last-minute saviour at Nicholls Oval yesterday.
The Eagles held on for a 31-26 triumph over the Queanbeyan Whites to give themselves a boost in the John I Dent Cup ladder battle.
And it was Duffy who produced a superb breakdown steal in the dying seconds to ensure the Eagles secured a victory.
Despite missing coach Owen Finegan - who was away in his role as the chief executive of Snowy Hydro Southcare - the Eagles held on for a five-point win.
The Eagles streaked clear at the start of the second half, but the Whites launched a late fightback to try to steal the match.
They scored with five minutes remaining and then held the ball for the rest of the match searching for a game-winning try.
But Duffy stepped up at the breakdown to force a turnover just 10 metres out from his own line and win a penalty to escape with a win.
Eagles captain Ben McGee praised the former St Joseph's College flanker for his superb performance.
''I didn't even know [Finegan] wasn't going to be here until Thursday night, so it was good to get that one,'' McGee said.
''[Duffy's] an unbelievable player, especially in the dying minutes of the game, he's often pulled us out of hard spots.
''He's consistently only of our better players … he played about a season in colts and then has been one of our best players in the past few years.''
The breakdown was the biggest frustration for the Whites in the tight match.
Coach Wayne Southwell was constantly left scratching his head as the Eagles successfully slowed down the Whites' attacking ball.
But his young side was determined not to let the Eagles run away with the match and fought for victory until the last seconds.
Before the match, the Whites were just five points behind the Eagles on the ladder.
But Queanbeyan now faces a tough task to force its way back into finals contention after the top four sides stretched the gap over the rest of the competition.
The Whites have four players in their back line who are still eligible to be in the club's colts side.
While Southwell was frustrated with the defeat, he said the performance sent a statement to the rest of the competition.
''I'm disappointed with that … the breakdown was tough, we needed some quick ball and I'm a little bit confused with the way some things went,'' Southwell said.
''I thought our guys showed a lot of courage, we're in this well and truly.
''No one is going to write us off after a game like that.''
Brumbies winger Cam Crawford scored a double for the Eagles, while flanker Rutikha Ilolahia also crossed twice.