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Brumbies knock Chiefs in opener

Photosport

Saturday, February 3, 2007    Sportal.co.nz    Photosport

Squaring off before a parochial Chiefs crowd in summery conditions, the Brumbies, twice winners of the competition, looked in sound form as they asserted pressure early on their hosts.

In a first half dominated by the referee's whistle and notable for three yellow-cardings, it was the visitors who came out on top.

Leading 10-5 at the break after a more cohesive kicking display, the Brumbies wrestled firm control of the match as the Chiefs were forced to defend for most of the opening half.

And in similar fashion to its predecessor and on the back of another early try, the visitors sealed the points, but not before being forced to withstand two late Chiefs tries as the hosts mounted a futile but almost successful comeback.

Five minutes into the contest, bullocking Wallabies star Stirling Mortlock made light work of the Chiefs defence to dart over the line to claim the try from 20 metres out.

Then, moments later the Chiefs had the chance to get on the scoreboard but first five-eighths Stephen Donald sent his shot at goal wide from the sideline.

Scarcely five minutes after converting his opening try, Mortlock easily put his side further ahead with a straightforward penalty goal courtesy of an indiscretion from Chiefs flanker Marty Holah.

Forced to defend against mounting attacking pressure, the Chiefs then thwarted another Brumbies attack as prop Nic Henderson came within inches of scoring before being dumped over the sideline.

However, the visiting side's disappointment proved short-lived and in the 15th minute Chiefs skipper Jono Gibbes was handed a yellow card after committing a high tackle, although Mortlock, from an easy vantage point, failed to slot the resultant penalty.

Then finally, despite being a man down and on their first attacking foray into the Brumbies' territory, the Chiefs managed to cross the line on the back of some penetrating play.

Forcing the overlap after a grinding run by No.8 Liam Messam, the ball was spread wide to wing Sosene Anesi who easily waltzed over for the try.

After such a sizzling start, things began to fall out of place for the Brumbies and with 12 minutes remaining in the first half, star flanker George Smith was yellow-carded due to repeated ruck infringements.

But in similar fashion and seven minutes later, Holah was also given his marching orders after yet another infringement and neither side was able to wrestle control of the match before the half-time siren.

Early in the second half and capitalising on Holah's yellow-card, the Brumbies, though, added to their lead on the back of some scintillating play by first five-eighths Julian Huxley.

Building momentum and pressing the Chiefs deeper and deeper inside their own half, big lock Mark Chisholm broke the line before sending the ball wide to speedy Clyde Rathbone who sauntered over the chalk for an easy try.

To add insult to injury, Huxley, just moments later, extended the visitors' lead to 13 with a long-range penalty goal after further confusion in the ruck.

With 19 minutes left on the clock and after another steamrolling run by Chisholm, the Brumbies looked set to edge further ahead courtesy of a penalty in close proximity to the posts.

However, Huxley slammed the seemingly easy attempt into the uprights, returning possession back to the Chiefs.

Then, completely against the run of play and just a few minutes later, Anesi, who had been out of action since his try in the first half, intercepted a pass from Jone Tawake and galloped 80m to put his side within eight points of the Brumbies.

This sparked a late resurgence from the hosts and with less than eight minutes left in the match, the Chiefs clawed back to within three points of the visitors as Lelia Masaga, having just been substituted onto the field, stormed his way over out wide.

But further inaccurate kicking from Donald saw the hosts trail and when Huxley, who also struggled with the boot himself, sent over a late penalty in front of goal, the match was all but over.

Brumbies 21 (Clyde Rathbone, Stirling Mortlock tries; Mortlock con, pen; Julian Huxley 2 pen) Chiefs 15 (Sosene Anesi 2 tries, Lelia Masaga 1 try). HT: 10-5