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Brumbies down Sharks to get season back on track

© AFP | In their first home game of the season, the Brumbies dug deep in defence to hold off a late surge from the Sharks

WELLINGTON (AFP) - 

The under-performing ACT Brumbies got their season back on track with a 24-17 win over the Natal Sharks in their Super Rugby clash in Canberra on Saturday.

After starting the season with a win over the Sunwolves in Japan, the Brumbies then suffered two demoralising losses to Australian rivals the Reds and the Rebels.

But in their first home game of the season, the Brumbies dug deep in defence to hold off a late surge from the Sharks.

With both teams scoring two tries apiece, flyhalf Wharenui Hawera's four penalties -- two of them from beyond 50 metres -- proved the difference.

The home side opened strongly and were well on top in the first 20 minutes, enjoying most of the possession and nearly all of the territory.

They took an early lead with a Hawera penalty and a converted try to winger Lausii Taliauli.

The Sharks eventually began to get into the contest and were rewarded with a Robert du Preez penalty, but despite the Brumbies being reduced to 14 men when Lachie McCaffrey was shown a yellow card, the visitors couldn't take advantage and the ACT led 10-3 at the break.

McCaffrey made amends soon after the restart when he set up Wallabies winger Henry Speight to put the Brumbies out to a 15-3 lead.

The Sharks came storming back when prop Thomas du Toi crashed over and du Preez converted to get back to within five points.

Three Hawera penalties appeared to make the game safe for the Brumbies, but Sharks fullback Curwin Bosch showed some electrifying pace to score in the corner with four minutes to go.

Du Preez converted and suddenly the visitors had a chance to get an unlikely draw.

But some desperate Brumbies defence in the closing stages ensured the home side held on for the win.

"Tonight was a good match to win -- the Sharks are a quality side and in good form too so it's nice to get a win at home," Brumbies captain Christian Leali'ifano said.

"(Hawera) was excellent tonight and confident the whole way through. He played an outstanding game."

- Highlanders down Crusaders -

Earlier, two late penalties by Lima Sopoaga sealed a dramatic 25-17 victory for the unbeaten Otago Highlanders over the Canterbury Crusaders in a bruising clash in Dunedin.

In a frantic finish, the All Blacks' fly-half, who shifts to England at the end of the season, stepped up after the Crusaders had narrowed the gap to two points with 25 minutes remaining.

The Highlanders scored three tries to two in the fast-paced, entertaining New Zealand derby as the defending champions Crusaders suffered a second successive loss.

It is the first time in three years the Crusaders have suffered back-to-back defeats, having gone down 29-19 to the Wellington Hurricanes last week.

"It was a hell of a game. We knew it was going to go down to the wire," said a relieved Highlanders skipper Ben Smith.

"We're still learning and it's still early in the competition. We just needed to make sure everyone was getting the right messages."

© 2018 AFP