A new-look Western Force put on a strong showing in their first trial match of the season, only to be narrowly beaten by the Brumbies, 20-18, at Marrara Rugby Park in Darwin.
In their first outing since the off-season overhaul of the side, the Western Australians - boasting 13 new faces in their 31-man squad - had a last-minute opportunity to claim the win, only to see replacement inside centre Kyle Godwin's long-range penalty attempt waved away.
The performance - led by lock Hugh McMeniman in his first match back from Japan - was a far cry from the 25-0 result in the corresponding match last year, with the Force clawing back from a 14-point quarter-time deficit to give themselves an opportunity to snatch the win at the death.
Western Force Head Coach Michael Foley said he was pleased with the development of his new side throughout the match.
"In the first 20 minutes the Brumbies looked like a side that had played together for 12 months and by the second 20 we were back into them, had more control of the game and were able to create some problems for them," he said.
"When you go on the field against a well-groomed side like the Brumbies and they're able to put you under pressure, we didn't have combinations or the intuition that you have when you've played a lot of time together.
"However, that understanding was progressing in front of our eyes as the game was continuing. By the second quarter almost every aspect of our game was better than it was in the first 20. There was probably a lot of nerves and a lack of combination early but to see them improving within the first game - which can often take two or three games - is very pleasing."
Western Force flyhalf Sias Ebersohn opened the scoring for the match when he booted an early penalty goal, only to have the Brumbies respond with a try to opposing playmaker Matt Toomua and conversion from Christian Lealiifano.
A Lealiifano penalty goal extended the ACT side's lead to seven before 'comeback kid' Clyde Rathbone marked his return to rugby with a converted try just prior to the 20-minute break.
Trailing 17-3, the Western Force began the comeback when back-rower Ben McCalman crashed over from short range to score. Ebersohn added the extras for the Force before Lealiifano returned serve with another three-pointer to extend his side's lead to 20-10 at half-time.
Soon after the break, Force scrumhalf Alby Mathewson worked his way over the try line, only to be denied by a desperate Brumbies defence, with Godwin adding the only points for the period through a penalty goal.
Needing to make up seven points in the final stanza, former Australian Sevens representative Junior Rasolea touched down in the corner to bring the Force to within two points, with Godwin's last-ditch penalty attempt ending a promising performance from the Perth-based side.
Brumbies Head Coach Jake White said there were plenty of positives to take out of the trip to Darwin.
"I think the most important thing is that we came through unscathed, there were no injuries so that's always a good sign. Secondly I thought that the first 20 minutes were outstanding and the last 20 our reserves showed a lot of character to hang in there," White said.
"Without singling anyone out, it was nice that everyone felt that they were a part of that match and that they can contribute to what promises to be a tough campaign.
"It was like one of those rain, hail and sunshine situations - when the sun was shining I thought we were fantastic but when the rain came in we probably lost our way a little bit."
"At the end when we had to grind it out, we had to dig deep and we got the result. There are a lot of things that we will take away from this game that will help to boost the team ahead of the season."
The Western Force will tackle a Tongan Select XV next Friday (8 February) in Mandurah before kicking off the 2013 Super Rugby season against the Rebels in Melbourne on Friday, 15 February.
The Brumbies return to Canberra on Saturday, with their final trial match against the ACT XV next Friday afternoon at Viking Park.
Final Score Brumbies 20 (20) Western Force 18 (10)
Tries : Matt Toomua, Clyde Rathbone
Conversions Christian Lealiifano 2
Penalties : Christian Lealiifano 2
Tries : Ben McCalman, Junior Rasolea
Conversions : Sias Ebersohn
Penalties : Sias Ebersohn, Kyle Godwin
Western Force: Chris Alcock, Phoenix Battye, Corey Brown, Richard Brown, Nathan Charles, Sam Christie, Angus Cottrell, Pek Cowan, Patrick Dellit, Sias Ebersohn, Tetera Faulkner, Kyle Godwin, Jayden Hayward, Matt Hodgson (c), Kieran Longbottom, Toby Lynn, Salesi Ma'afu, Alfie Mafi, Alby Mathewson, Locky McCaffrey, Ben McCalman, Hugh McMeniman, Junior Rasolea, Mick Snowden, Winston Stanley, Ed Stubbs, Heath Tessmann, Chris Tuatara-Morrison, Will Tupou, Rory Walton, Sam Wykes.
1. Ben Alexander (replaced by Ruaidhri Murphy), 2. Stephen Moore (replaced by Siliva Siliva), 3. Dan Palmer (replaced by Ruan Smith), 4. Scott Fardy (replaced by Etienne Oosthuizen), 5. Sam Carter (replaced by Leon Power), 6. Peter Kimlin (replaced by Tim Cree), 7. David Pocock (replaced by Jordan Smiler), 8. Ben Mowen (replaced by Fotu Auelua), 9. Nic White (replaced by Ian Prior), 10. Matt Toomua (replaced by Zack Holmes), 11. Clyde Rathbone (replaced by Tom Cox), 12. Christian Lealiifano (replaced by Jordan Rapana), 13. Andrew Smith (replaced by Tevita Kuridrani), 14. Henry Speight (replaced by Stephan Van Der Walt), 15. Jesse Mogg (replaced by Robbie Coleman),