Five penalties the difference as the Australian side knocked off the Auckland Blues.
Christian Lealiifano kicked the ACT Brumbies to a crucial 20-13 win over the Auckland Blues in their Super 15 clash at Eden Park on Saturday.
On a wet and windy evening, where there was only one try to each side, Lealiifano punished the Blues with five penalties to keep the Brumbies at the head of the Australian conference.
The Brumbies adapted best to the conditions where the wind and constant rain dictated kick-and-chase tactics and their halves Nic White and Matt Toomua turned the Blues at every opportunity in the first half.
They led 14-0 at half-time and although the Blues fought back in the second spell, Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said conditions were always in their favour to snap a two-match losing streak.
“We definitely stuck to our game plan which was good. When we woke up this morning and saw the rain coming down we felt comfortable because that was the way we had planned all week.
“This was a turning point game for us and I’m really glad the guys got the result for themselves tonight.”
While the Blues opted to avoid the wind and rain as long as possible by staying indoors for their pre-match warm-up, the Brumbies had no complaints.
They rehearsed in the wet before kick off and were rewarded for their appreciation of the slippery conditions with a first-half try.
When Blues wing George Moala spilled a high kick, White toed the ball ahead and dived on the ball six metres out to body-surf across the turf to the line.
Complaints by Blues assistant coach Graham Henry during the week that referees were not adequately policing the off-side rule came back to haunt the Auckland franchise.
Two of the three penalties Lealiifano kicked in the first half were from the Blues being caught off side.
The Blues opened the second half with greater accuracy and their confidence lifted when a Chris Noakes’ penalty put their first points on the board.
They backed that up with a try to the ever-dangerous Rene Ranger who finished off a 40-metre attack in which the Brumbies were punished for falling off tackles.
Noakes conversion reduced the gap to 10-14 but that was as close as the Blues would get as continued infringements allowed Lealiifano to kick two further penalties while Baden Kerr landed one for the home side.
“We can give ourselves an uppercut for that first half,” said Blues captain Ali Williams who this week announced his retirement from international rugby after 77 Tests in an 11-year All Blacks career.
“The second half was better, a lot more pleasing, a lot more attitude and desire to play the game.”
The Brumbies next week return to Canberra to host the Wellington Hurricanes while the Blues head to Dunedin to play the bottom-of-the-table Otago Highlanders.