Hope of a Super Rugby finals berth is not lost for the Brumbies, who snapped a two-game losing streak with a 23-6 win over the Bulls on Friday night.
Teetering on the edge of their longest run of losses since 2011, the Canberra-based franchise instead ended their South African rivals’ run of victories to return to the winners’ circle at GIO Stadium.
It was the Brumbies’ second victory in five games and the Bulls’ first defeat since round one.
The Brumbies’ prospects of making the playoffs looked dire after losing to the Highlanders in Invercargill last week and a drubbing at the hands of the Crusaders at home a week earlier.
But Friday’s hard-fought win pushes them ahead of the Melbourne Rebels – who have a bye this week – and temporarily to the top of the Australian conference.
The NSW Waratahs have a chance to overtake them with a big win over the Cheetahs at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
Both the Rebels – whom the Brumbies play next week at AAMI Park – and Tahs, however, have a game in hand.
While the ACT club were without inside centre Matt Toomua, who will be out for six weeks after having surgery on his knee, they welcomed back inspirational Wallabies skipper Stephen Moore.
It was, as expected, a brutal battle with the Bulls and their massive forward pack – and it showed in the opening exchanges, with the home side looking a little off especially at the scrum.
The Pretoria-based Bulls were first on the board via a penalty goal in the fourth minute, but three off the boot to Christian Lealiifano gave the Brumbies a 9-3 lead at halftime.
Similarly to last week, Stephen Larkham’s men enjoyed a large share of possession but couldn’t put the finishing touches on a handful of attacking opportunities in the first half.
The break proved helpful, though, with Nigel Ah Wong and Tomas Cubelli scoring the game’s only tries in the 45th and 57th minutes respectively – both converted by Lealiifano.
The 17-point win was their biggest over the Bulls since 2003.