The Brumbies will have to wait another week to snatch back the Australian conference lead, after a 23-10 loss to the Highlanders on Saturday.
The ACT franchise were ground into submission by a Highlanders side happy to make tackle after tackle, finishing with a 120-32 count in the Kiwis’ favour.
The Brumbies dominated the early possession, with 89 per cent of the ball in the first 10 minutes, but they couldn’t make that count.
A yellow card to Highlanders winger Jack Wilson, after he coat-hangered Robbie Coleman, gave the Brumbies a one-man advantage, much to the chagrin of the locals.
Christian Lealiifano gave the Brumbies the first points of the match in the 15th minute, with a penalty goal.
Lealiifano fumbled the Brumbies’ first half-chance for a try three minutes later after a break from scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli.
Cubelli stopped a near-certain Highlanders try, pushing barnstorming winger Patrick Osborne into touch.
His counterpart, Aaron Smith, one-upped him in the dying seconds of the opening half, handing off a pass to Lima Sopoaga for the only try of the first period, five of his 18-point tally for the night.
Highlanders fullback Ben Smith snatched the first try of the second half, after a Malakai Fekitoa break set up the five-pointer.
Replacement Brumbies hooker Josh Mann-Rea whittled back that advantage, crossing after a powerful rolling maul in the 51st minute.
Sopoaga replied with a penalty five minutes later as the momentum slipped out of the Brumbies’ hands.
The ACT franchise spent six minutes on the Highlanders’ line and went agonisingly close to scoring but an inconclusive TMO review let the Kiwis off.
Another Sopoaga penalty made the difference 10 points and put the Brumbies out of bonus point contention, before a third put the game out of the visitors’ reach.
The Brumbies head back to Canberra to take on the Bulls next weekend before a vital clash against the Rebels in Melbourne.
(Tries: Mann-Rea, Cons: Lealiifano Pens: Lealiifano)
(Tries: Sopoaga, B Smith Cons: Sopoaga 2 Pens: Sopoaga 3)