ACT Brumbies edge Cheetahs 15-13 to reach Super 15 rugby semi-finals
The ACT Brumbies hung on to beat the Cheetahs 15-13 in a tight Super Rugby play-off match yesterday, as Riaan Smit's attempted conversion of Ryno Benjamin's last-minute try, which would have taken the match to extra time, glanced off the goalposts.
Benjamin took the field as a late replacement and caught a pass from scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius outside the last defender to score a try that gave the Cheetahs hope of prolonging their best-ever season.
Smit, who had kicked only one of his three previous shots at goal, lined up the conversion from the left-hand touchline and into the teeth of a bitter wind.
His powerful kick arced towards the posts but, at the last second, drifted away and just brushed the left-hand post.
In a match in which goalkicks were decisive, Wallabies inside centre Christian Leali'ifano shrugged off two early misses to nail four penalties for the Brumbies, who will face the Pretoria-based Bulls in this weekend's semi-finals.
The Christchurch-based Crusaders will play the Hamilton-based Chiefs, the defending champions, in an all-New Zealand semi-final after their 38-9 win over the Queensland Reds on Saturday.
Leali'ifano missed two of his first three shots at goal, then landed three in succession as the Brumbies relied on penalties to beat the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs, who were appearing in a play-off match for the first time. Scrumhalf Nic White also kicked a long-range penalty for the Brumbies.
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen watched in trepidation as Smit's last kick rose towards the posts. "You always worry when a South African guy's having a kick at goal because they're usually dead on the money," Mowen said. "But, fortunately for us, it went our way there.
"I thought there were moments throughout that game when we played some really good footy. We spoke in the dressing room about being enthusiastic, we spoke about out-willing them in those moments and I thought for the majority of the game we did that."
The Brumbies, who topped the Australian conference and finished third overall at the end of the regular season, played a generally conservative and unimaginative match. They kicked for field position and waited for the penalties that inevitably went against the Cheetahs at the fiercely contested breakdown.
"That's an area of strength for us without a doubt, the breakdown," Mowen said. "That was a good effort, but we're going to build now and try to run all the way through. "We're pretty comfortable with the things we've been working on, but we've just got to make sure we execute them under game pressure."