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The ACT Brumbies used injured superstar David Pocock as the inspiration for their bonus-point win over the Wellington Hurricanes in New Zealand on Friday night.
But it was injury-plagued fighter Pat McCabe who produced his best game in two years to drive the Brumbies to a crucial 29-21 victory.
Inside-centre McCabe was outstanding, playing just six days after being taken to hospital in a neck brace and fearing his Super Rugby career was over.
McCabe has broken his neck twice since November 2012 and suffered another knock on the same spot last weekend.
So as Pocock sat in a Brisbane hospital contemplating another year out of the game following a knee reconstruction, it was fitting that McCabe, one of the most courageous players in Super Rugby, delivered his best performance since breaking his neck.
McCabe said his neck pain last week gave him confidence to get back to his robust playing style.
The hard-nosed centre was instrumental, dominant and tough in his efforts, handing off the last pass for the Brumbies to secure a vital bonus-point try and their second win of the season.
”Everyone knows how much Poey is hurting right now; it’s hard to know what to say,” McCabe said.
”It’s shattering for the whole team; we saw all the work he did. He’s a heartbeat of the organisation; it meant a lot to get a win tonight for him.
”I’m starting to feel comfortable and it’s nice to string a few games for a change.”
McCabe had more than a dozen runs for more than 200 metres and broke more than 10 tackles.
The Brumbies went on a destructive three-try burst in the 15 minutes before and after half-time. Jesse Mogg, Robbie Coleman and Tevita Kuridrani lifted the Brumbies to the lead with tries before Lachlan McCaffrey scored the clincher – and secured a four-try bonus point – with less than 10 minutes left in the game.
It was a crucial win going into next weekend’s derby clash against the high-flying NSW Waratahs at Canberra Stadium.
The only concern was flyhalf Matt Toomua who, playing his 50th Super Rugby game, left the field with a shoulder problem, but is expected to take on the Waratahs.
”We lost a bit of control in the first half; we had five opportunities to score that we didn’t take,” said coach Stephen Larkham.
”A little bit was through impatience, but the pleasing thing was that we put in a good performance in the second half.”
The Hurricanes scored the first try through halfback T.J. Perenara. But it was the result of a controversial decision by the touch judge.
Hurricanes winger Cory Jane appeared to be out when he passed the ball back inside.
Referee Craig Joubert was unsighted and asked for confirmation.
Instead of sending the decision to the television match official, the touch judge said he was certain Jane was in the field of play.
Replays showed Jane had his left foot on the line, but the decision stood. It could have derailed the Brumbies, but they hit back with two tries in the last five minutes of half.
Fullback Mogg bounced back to his best form, producing silky skills at the end of the first half to score the Brumbies’ first try and then going on a swerving run, chipping, regathering and spinning in the lead-up to Coleman’s try.
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said the team was determined to win to ease Pocock’s post-surgery pain.
”He’s our best mate who’s hurting, the only thing we could do was put in a performance like that,” Mowen said.
ACT BRUMBIES 29 (Jesse Mogg, Robbie Coleman, Tevita Kuridrani, Lachlan McCaffrey tries; Nic White 3 cons, pen) bt WELLINGTON HURRICANES 21 (TJ Perenara, Blade Thompson tries; Beauden Barrett 3 pens, con) at Westpac Stadium on Friday night. Referee: Craig Joubert. Crowd: 8396.