Wallaby Julian Huxley guided a bare-bones ACT Brumbies to a tense 22-20 Super 14 rugby win over New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
The Brumbies, in a rebuilding phase after the loss of experienced halves George Gregan and Stephen Larkham, also went into the match without a further three injured Wallabies — Stirling Mortlock, Clyde Rathbone and Adam Ashley-Cooper.
Huxley, who this week signed again with the Brumbies for a further two years, took on the added responsibility and steered his weakened team across the line following their 34-3 pasting from the Canterbury Crusaders last weekend. He also chipped in with two conversions and a penalty from four attempts.
Huxley, playing at fullback, went to first receiver in the second half as the Highlanders clawed back from 17-7 down at half-time to get within two points in the frenetic final minutes.
Fullback James Wilson had the chance to kick Otago to victory with eight minutes left, but pushed his penalty attempt wide as the Brumbies clung on to a crucial home victory.
Otago, shaded by the Queensland Reds in Brisbane the previous weekend, only had themselves to blame for defeat, squandering chances off their numerous line breaks.
Winger Fetu’u Vainikolo, who scored the opening try in the fourth minute, was a constant threat and almost stole the match only to be ankle-tapped by a diving Stephen Hoiles eight minutes from full-time.
The Brumbies appeared fortunate to receive a penalty try awarded by South African referee Craig Joubert in the 32nd minute after lock Hayden Triggs was sin-binned for a high tackle on Brumbies hooker Huia Edmonds on Otago’s try line.
That presented the Brumbies with a 17-7 lead, but the Highlanders kept grafting away in the second half with two Wilson penalties, before Hoiles scored ACT’s third try in the 61st minute.
Number eight Stephen Setephano was held up over the Brumbies try line in the 65th minute, but a minute later prop Chris King plunged over to put Otago within two points and set up the thrilling finish.
The Brumbies struck further injury problems with skipper and Wallaby flanker George Smith coming off in the 57th minute with a bruised thigh and opening try scorer and centre Anthony Faingaa limping off. — Sapa-AFP