The Highlanders beat the Brumbies 12-33 in a one-sided Super Rugby Trans-Tasman clash at GIO Stadium, Canberra.
The Highlanders go top of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman ahead of the Hurricanes after securing a deserved bonus-point win.
The Brumbies‘ season is over. It ended not with a bang, but a whimper as the visitors snuffed the life from their hosts.
The Highlanders, however, are looking to play in their first finals since 2015, the win gives them a chance of doing so.
They are scheduled to meet the two worst Australian franchises, both of which have not won a game in the Trans-Tasman tournament, and have yet to get a point.
Aaron Smith shone, bagging a brace, as well as ending a long-standing scoring drought in Australia.
The sublime scrumhalf had not scored a try down under for five years, but he ended the run with tries on either side of the break.
Such is the 32-year-old leader’s importance, he stayed on the field until the last 20 seconds of the match to see out the win.
Smith’s co-captain Ash Dixon scored the Landers’ first try, while Billy Harmon bookended Smith’s brace with a second-half five-pointer of his own.
Patelesio Tomkinson sealed the bonus point when he crashed through after the hour mark.
Mitch Hunt kicked four of his five conversion attempts.
Len Ikitau and Lachlan Lonergan both crossed for Dan McKellar’s side in the first stanza.
McKellar will be disappointed with the way his charges finished the season, especially the manner of this defeat.
The teams went into the shed separated by two points after two tries apiece
The game took a while to get going. It was a stop-start affair for most of the first quarter as both teams struggled to find any rhythm.
Ikitau did, however, open the scoring in the 15th minute after a strong run by Rob Valetini got the Brumbies on the front foot.
The ball was recycled quickly to Irae Simone, who put his centre partner away in the corner.
Bayley Kuenzle, starting at standoff, could not convert the touchline kick. The lead did not last long.
Six minutes later, the Highlanders levelled when Dixon scored from a rolling maul. Mitch Hunt added the extras.
The Kiwis doubled their score when they executed a stunning backline attack.
Hunt took the ball to the short side, pump-faked then sent Jona Nareki away down the wing.
Nareki burst past a defender before offloading in the tackle to the supporting Smith, who dived in for the score.
It was a sublime attacking move by the Dunedin men. Hunt converted to make it 5-14 after 28 minutes.
McKellar’s men did not sit back, they got on the front foot again, and camped on the opposition’s try line for several minutes before the break.
The Highlanders conceded three penalties, which Tom Banks kept putting into the corner. Eventually, the dam burst.
Hooker Lonergan flopped over the whitewash after the Brumbies’ pack bulldozed the opposition – with the help of several backs.
Kuenzle converted to make it a two-point ball game at halftime on a cold evening in the capital.
The Highlanders put their foot down, searching for the bonus point as the Brumbies stalled
The Brumbies folded in the second half, their set-piece was a mess, their tackling weak.
The hosts got played off the park, the rucks became one-sided as the Otago loose forwards bossed the breakdown.
It did not take the visitors long to add to their tally after the interval.
Some sustained pressure led to a couple of attacking scrums on the home team’s goal line.
The pressure told, and Smith had a second, seven minutes after the restart.
The veteran All Blacks halfback broke from the back of the collapsed scrum and darted under the posts.
Hunt added his third conversion to stretch the Kiwis’ lead to nine.
The game soon got away from the hosts as the Dunedin men dropped the hammer.
The Brumbies’ set-piece fell apart. They lost two scrums and four lineouts in a row as they imploded in the final quarter.
Harmon and Tomkinson both barged their way over the whitewash inside seven minutes, either side of the hour mark.
Harmon scored after a well-worked decoy move from an attacking lineout.
Tomkinson reached out to score after more sustained pressure on the home side’s try line.
The Brumbies had several good chances to scupper their opponents, but mistakes continued to hamper them.
The Highlanders defended two five-metre lineouts, kept the home team scoreless in the second stanza as they secured the vital bonus point.
It is now a waiting game.
Final Score: Brumbies 12 (12) Highlanders 33 (14)
Tries – Ikitau, L. Lonergan
Con – Kuenzle
Tries – Dixon, Smith (2), Harmon, Tomkinson
Con – Hunt (4)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 1: Graham Cooper
Assistant Ref 2: Reuben Keane
TMO: Brett Cronan
15 Tom Banks, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Mack Hansen, 10 Bayley Kuenzle, 9 Nic White, 8 Henry Stowers, 7 Rory Scott, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Nick Frost, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa (captain), 2 Lachlan Lonergan, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Billy Pollard, 17 Harry Lloyd, 18 Tom Ross, 19 Tom Hooper, 20 Luke Reimer, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Reesjan Pasitoa, 23 Solomone Kata
15 Josh Ioane, 14 Patelesio Tomkinson, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Scott Gregory, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Hugh Renton, 5 Pari Pari Parkinson, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 James Lentjes, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Sam Gilbert, 23 Teariki Ben-Nicholas