Flyhalf Christian Lealiifano kicked a last-minute drop goal to hand Australia's ACT Brumbies a 33-31 win over New Zealand's Otago Highlanders in a thrilling start to the 2009 Super 14 season on Friday.
|Christian Lealiifano kicks the drop goal to win the match in the final seconds [GALLO/GETTY]
The Brumbies regained their composure to win a match that could have gone either way when the Highlanders scored two tries in the last 10 minutes to regain the lead after conceding 30 unanswered points.
The Highlanders had made a flying start, scoring three tries inside the first 20 minutes to lead 19-0 at Carisbrook Stadium in Dunedin, but did not score again until the last 10 minutes.
In the meantime, the Brumbies, inspired by Australia captain Stirling Mortlock, replied with four tries of their own to pile on 30 points until their late lapse in concentration almost cost them the victory.
"I thought we showed a lot of character to get ourselves on top from three tries to nil down," Brumbies captain Stephen Hoiles said.
"It was disappointing to let them back in but I guess they'll be more disappointed than us."
Replacement front rowers Chris King and Jason Rutledge both burrowed their way over from close-range to put the Highlanders back in front but the Brumbies were given one last chance to snatch victory when flyhalf Daniel Bowden's final conversion attempt hit the upright.
Otago outside centre Jason Shoemark set the tone when he scored the first try after just six minutes then wing Fetu'u Vainikolo added a second five minutes later.
The Highlanders went further ahead when Bowden scored a spectacular solo try off a chip and regather from just outside his own quarter before the Brumbies began to turn the screws.
Mortlock crashed over from a set move off the back of the scrum, with Mark Gerrard converting and adding a penalty to reduce the deficit to nine points at halftime.
Lapse of concentration
|Adam Ashley Cooper dives in [GALLO/GETTY]
Mortlock barged his way over for a second try just after the re-start then Adam Ashley-Cooper burst through some feeble defence to put the visitors ahead for the first time after 48 minutes.
When Gerrard scored in the 53rd minute to give the Brumbies an 11-point lead, the result seemed a foregone conclusion until the Highlanders hit the front with the two late tries from King and Rutledge then Lealiifano had the final say.
The Brumbies claimed maximum points, including a bonus for scoring four tries, while the Highlanders collected two bonus points.
"This is just the first match and it's a long competition so it's pleasing to come away with two points," said Otago skipper Jimmy Cowan.
"But it's still very frustrating to lose when we had the game won more or less and we threw it away."