Brumbies Crowned Super 12 Champions.
Australia's ACT Brumbies claimed their second Super 12 rugby crown with a spectacular 47-38 victory over four-time champions Canterbury Crusaders in the final at Canberra Stadium today.
Australia's ACT Brumbies claimed their second Super 12 rugby crown with a spectacular 47-38 victory over four-time champions Canterbury Crusaders in the final at Canberra Stadium today.

The Brumbies exploded out of the blocks, surging to a breathless 33-0 lead in the opening 19 minutes before the Crusaders steadily chipped away over the ensuing 60 minutes to go down fighting by nine points.

ACT scored seven tries to six but their sensational opening laid the platform for victory against a thoroughbred New Zealand combination that refused to accept defeat.

Winger Mark Gerrard scored a hattrick of tries and fullback Joe Roff, playing for the Brumbies for the last time in his 10-year career, scored two tries to break the Super 12 record of 56 tries held by former All Black fullback Christian Cullen.

Roff ended with 22 points in the final in a memorable finish to his career. "It (33-point margin) got us off to a great start and with a team like the Crusaders you don't want to be playing catch-up football," Brumbies captain Owen Finegan said.

"It was just an awesome start. We just started playing a bit of sevens footy then - it was a bit scary ... it wasn't the smartest footy but we got the result in the end."

It was an extraordinary start to the final by the Brumbies, who were up against their competition nemesis after losing two previous finals to the Crusaders in 2000 and 2002. Everything the Brumbies attempted in those pulsating opening 20 minutes turned to gold with five tries against the shellshocked Crusaders.

Crusaders fullback Ben Blair had a nightmare match, contributing to the two opening tries with mistakes, but it was the injection of All Black fly-half Andrew Mehrtens into the final after 24 minutes that turned around the momentum.

The Crusaders hit back with two tries to flanker Richie McCaw and centre Aaron Mauger to trail 33-14 at halftime and give themselves a chance of staging a dramatic comeback.

Gerrard charged through to seize the ball from a Blair fumble of a Stephen Larkham high kick minutes after halftime to post his third try and push the Brumbies out to a 40-14 lead, but the New Zealanders clawed back to 40-28 with 11 minutes left as they threw everything at the Brumbies.

Crusaders captain Reuben Thorne was proud of his team's fightback but lamented the woeful start. "We had a shocker of a start and against a quality team like this there's no way most sides would ever come back but I'm proud of the way the guys did fight back. We clawed out way back into it - almost," he said.

Roff broke the try-scoring record with his second touchdown of the night and 57th in Super 12 rugby to clinch the match with eight minutes left, yet the Crusaders still kept coming. "It's amazing the way things pan out it was just a great night - a night I'll always remember," Roff said.

"I don't think the Crusaders will begrudge us that one, they're a great side and we're just so thankful to get a win."

Replacement Casey Laulala scored in the 78th minute and Canterbury wouldn't say die even after the full-time siren sounded and strung together 12 phases of determined play before Daniel Carter scored off a Mauger grubber kick.

The Brumbies were deserved winners after an outstanding season in the southern hemisphere provincial series. They recorded eight wins and three defeats in the regular rounds to finish six points clear of the second-placed Crusaders.

ACT once again underlined that they have the most potent attack in Super 12 with their structured and innovative play. Most of the Crusaders' tries came through driving mauls, whereas the Brumbies scored several long-distance tries through penetration and backing up the ball carrier.

Wallaby flanker George Smith, fly-half Larkham, hooker Jeremy Paul and lock Radike Samo were outstanding for the Brumbies, who will also farewell David Giffin, Mark Bartholomeusz as well as Samo, who has signed with England's Newcastle Falcons.

Paul is likely to follow them overseas while ACT coach David Nucifora was in charge for the last time after his shock mid-season sacking. "I don't know what to think right now," Nucifora said of his mixed emotions.

"At the moment I'm really happy for the whole group, the management, the players and the people of Canberra."

Nucifora described the game as "crazy" but said the Brumbies deserved their win as they had been the best side all year.

AFP - 2004.

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