Brumbies take Super 12 crown



Things started badly for the visitors with winger Caleb Ralph caught isolated in the opening minute, and Brumbies flanker George Smith freeing the ball for Stephen Larkham to drill a telling kick into the right-hand corner of the field. Whether it's a case of being too casual or early jitters, fullback Ben Blair's attempt to dribble the ball into touch finds nothing but fresh air... and his Brumbies counterpart Joe Roff collects 1m out for his record-equalling 56th Rebel Sport Super 12 try.

The early setback quickly turns into a fully-fledged rugby meltdown: halfback George Gregan probing the blindside from a Crusaders turnover and sending winger Mark Gerrard speeding away for his side's second try. Crusaders second-five Daniel Carter has a chance to bring some relief, but pulls his 40m penalty attempt to the right.

And the punishment continues: lock Radike Samo driving back Crusaders flanker Richard McCaw in the tackle, and Gregan and Gerrard setting off down the blindside once more, travelling 40m before hooker Jeremy Paul crashes over for the try.

The first 15 minutes of the match already look like a Brumbies highlights package, but another try to Gerrard and one to second-five Matt Giteau cement what is the greatest start by any team in Rebel Sport Super 12 final history: five tries and a massive 33 unanswered points.

Andrew Mehrtens replaces first-five Cameron Macintyre in the 23rd minute, and the aimless kicking gives way to keeping the ball firmly in hand. It works. The turnovers also trickle to a halt, as Richie McCaw finishes a solid forward drive by getting under the defence to finally put the Crusaders on the board. Daniel Carter converts.

33-7 Brumbies.

But the Crusaders are still looking for a miracle, and they get one when Brumbies Captain Owen Finegan loses the ball diving over the line. Instead, running the inside channel close to the mauls, Mehrtens handles three times in a movement that ends with a try to centre Aaron Mauger. Again, Carter converts.

33-14 to the Brumbies at the break, but Ben Blair's nightmare on Canberra street continues in the second 40 as he gets nowhere near a Larkham bomb in the 42nd minute - and Gerrard collects for his third try.

Tellingly, the Crusaders press next, but fail to score. Instead, time ticks by as Roff misses a penalty attempt and big Brad Thorne answers by crashing over at the end of five phases for the Crusaders. The television match official awards a try to replacement Chris King soon afterwards, and 12 points down with 11 minutes on the clock, a comeback is suddenly on the cards.

But one more Crusaders turnover, and in true 'Boys Own' style fullback Joe Roff clinches both the Rebel Sport Super 12 try-scoring record and the championship for his team in his last match for the Brumbies. Playing on sheer guts, the Crusaders answer with two tries on the death, but their lapse in the first quarter of the match has put an end to any dreams of a record fifth title.

Brumbies: Tries: Jeremy Paul, Matt Gitteau, Joe Roff (2), Matt Gerrard (3). Conversions: Roff (6)

Crusaders: Tries. Richie McCaw, Aaron Mauger, Brad Thorne, Chris King, Casey Laulala. Conversions: Daniel Carter (4).

ACT Brumbies: 15 Joe Roff, 14 Clyde Rathbone, 13 Joel Wilson, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Mark Gerrard, 10 Stephen Larkham, 9 George Gregan, 8 Scott Fava, 7 George Smith, 6 Owen Finegan (captain), 5 Radike Samo, 4 Mark Chisholm, 3 Nic Henderson, 2 Jeremy Paul, 1 Bill Young.
Replacements: 16 David Palavi, 17 Guy Shepherdson, 18 David Giffin, 19 Jone Tawake, 20 Matt Henjak, 21 Mark Bartholomeusz, 22 Lenny Beckett.

Crusaders: 15 Ben Blair, 14 Marika Vunibaka, 13 Aaron Mauger, 12 Daniel Carter, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Cameron McIntyre, 9 Justin Marshall, 8 Sam Broomhall, 7 Richard McCaw, 6 Reuben Thorne, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Tone Kopelani, 1 David Hewett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Chris King, 18 Ross Filipo, 19 Johnny Leo'o, 20 Jamie Nutbrown, 21 Andrew Mehrtens, 22 Casey Laulala.