Brumbies 47 Crusaders 38
CANBERRA - As a player Robbie Deans experienced Auckland's legendary 24-0 first half assault on his Canterbury side in the 1985 Ranfurly Shield rugby epic.
Yet even that blitz paled into insignificance as the Crusaders coach watched dumbstruck at the Super 12 final on Saturday night while the Brumbies went berserk in a 19-minute spell that reaped five tries - for an astonishing 33 points.
The Crusaders - like Canterbury that day at Lancaster Park - fought back forlornly as the Brumbies avenged their 2000 and 2002 final defeats with a deserved 47-38 victory at Canberra Stadium.
Deans and captain Reuben Thorne struggled to describe the most calamitous quarter in the four-time champions' history.
"Horrific, it was similar to 1985," was Deans' succinct description of an opening blast that turned into a personal nightmare for fullback Ben Blair.
He was culpable for the first of the Brumbies' seven tries when he failed to clear an innocuous Stephen Larkham kick near his goal-line which allowed wing Joe Roff to pounce.
Minutes later Blair also set the first of wing Mark Gerrard's hat-trick in motion when a wild pass forced a turnover.
Three tries followed in quick succession as the Brumbies clinically capitalised on the Crusaders' mistakes.
The Crusaders then regained their composure, thanks partly to the introduction of little-used All Blacks veteran first five-eighth Andrew Mehrtens.
Mehrtens was thrown into the fray in the 24th minute for Cameron McIntyre and while on the field the Crusaders outscored their hosts 38-14.
His vision, kicking game and crisp passing invigorated the Crusaders, and tries to Richie McCaw and Aaron Mauger gave a glimmer of hope at halftime with the Brumbies leading 33-14.
"At halftime I felt it was there for us," Deans said.
The Crusaders needed to continue their momentum after the break, but a crooked lineout throw and the continuation of Blair's horror show stopped the resurgence.
From a scrum, Larkham hoisted an inch-perfect bomb. Blair leapt but fluffed the catch and Gerrard forced to give the Brumbies an impregnable 26-point buffer.
Tries to Brad Thorn and replacement prop Chris King narrowed the gap but Roff's second - which broke Christian Cullen's record of 56 Super 12 tries - in the 72nd minute sealed the Brumbies' second title.
Casey Laulala and Daniel Carter rounded off late length-of-the-field counter-attacks to give the Crusaders respectability.
Thorne admitted the team were shell-shocked by the Brumbies' opening burst but was proud of their fightback.
Deans drew a parallel with the round-robin clash where the Crusaders were up 14-0 in seven minutes.
"We put ourselves under pressure and the Brumbies pounced. At 12-0 I thought, 'That's ample thanks' but it carried on.
"We played some good rugby for 20 minutes but it was just too big a lead."
Mehrtens, who kicked the Crusaders to victory at Canberra in 2000, downplayed his role as saviour.
"Everyone stuck to the task. I don't think it was a matter of changing much. We just had to have patience and control the ball," he said.
"The more phases we got through the better we got."
The triumph was a perfect send-off for Roff, David Giffin, Mark Bartholomeuzs, Radike Samo - and Brumbies coach David Nucifora.
"I had to pinch myself at the scoreline," said Nucifora.
"We said we wanted to hunt the Crusaders, we felt in the past they've hunted us ... We wanted to turn the tables on them. We wanted pressure on the field and the scoreboard and being 33 points up in 20-odd minutes is pretty good hunting."
Roff said it was "amazing the way things panned out".
"It's a night I'll always remember. I don't think the Crusaders will begrudge us that one."
In under 20 minutes
1min: Joe Roff pounces after Ben Blair duffs the clearance from a Stephen Larkham kick through.
4min: Mark Gerrard strikes down the left wing after a George Gregan blindside break.
11min: Hooker Jeremy Paul plunges over down the same avenue.
16min: Gerrard grabs his second.
19min: Matt Giteau finishes off a long break to dive under the posts.
Brumbies 47 Crusaders 38
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