26th Mar 2012 12:04pm | By Editor
The surprising Brumbies sit atop Super Rugby's Australian conference while previous leaders Queensland ponder their grim injury toll after a demoralisingly one-sided loss to the Bulls.
Unfancied in the pre-season, coach Jake White's Brumbies (17 points) are now running third overall following their 33-26 home win over the previously unbeaten Highlanders (17) on Saturday.
That victory following a narrow loss to the Chiefs (18) has greatly boosted their credibility, as those opponents are New Zealand's two highest-placed teams.
The Stormers (20) lead the ladder and are the only remaining unbeaten team following a 24-19 away win over fellow South African side the Lions (10).
The Brumbies leapfrogged defending Super Rugby champions Queensland (13) in the Australian conference after the Reds were hammered 61-8 by the Bulls (19) in Pretoria on Sunday AEDT.
The NSW Waratahs (13) rediscovered the ball-in-hand game to win a close one following successive one-point losses, scoring a thrilling 34-30 home victory over the Sharks (12) in Sydney.
And the Melbourne Rebels (10) ended their 12-match losing streak stretching back to last season with Mark Gerrard kicking a late penalty to secure a 30-29 home win over the Western Force (7).
But Queensland have big problems after racking up their heaviest loss and biggest score conceded since their 92-3 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria five years ago.
The Reds' woes were compounded by more additions to their injury list in centre Jono Lance (suspected broken leg), prop Ben Daley (suspected broken thumb), hooker Saia Faingaa (ankle syndesmosis) and lock Van Humphries (broken nose).
Reds' coach Ewen McKenzie will contemplate tempering with his team's expansive style after their desire to keep attacking caused several costly turnovers, but he was philosophical about their heavy loss.
"We'll take stock and dust ourselves off and keep going," McKenzie said.
In Canberra, former NRL winger Joseph Tomane crossed twice early and outstanding young flanker Michael Hooper scored a third try, as the new-look Brumbies again did plenty to excite their fans after last year's poor season.
"The way they took their lessons from last week and put them into practice this game - those are the things that make coaching so nice," White said.
Rebels' coach Damien Hill echoed similar sentiments after his team rebounded from a last-gasp home loss to the Cheetahs.
English five-eighth Danny Cipriani, who was prominent in setting up the Rebels' 21-0 lead, will be out for two to three weeks with a hamstring injury.
However, fellow backline stars James O'Connor, Kurtley Beale and Richard Kingi are all likely to return for next Friday's game against the Highlanders in Invercargill.
In Sydney, winger Tom Kingston scored a match-winning try to secure the Waratahs' fifth bonus point from as many games.
Pre-season fancies the Blues (6) are now eight points adrift at the bottom of the New Zealand conference following a 26-25 loss to the Hurricanes (15) in Auckland.
The Crusaders (14) snapped a two-match losing streak with a 28-21 win over the Cheetahs (7) in Christchurch.