“THAT one was for Macca,” long-time mate Patrick Phibbs said last night after the Brumbies succeeded in their wish of celebrating the life of Shawn Mackay by defeating the Stormers at Canberra Stadium yesterday.
In a week where football became a side issue following the death of the Brumbies forward on Monday after he had been hit by a car in Durban the previous week, his Brumbies teammates showed admirable courage, self-belief and spirit to beat the Springbok-laden opposition.
And it was apt that Phibbs, a schoolmate of Mackay’s, was the player who ensured victory when he scored the matchwinning try in the 59th minute to bring much-needed joy to the Brumbies.
Phibbs was grateful he had an important role in a special triumph.
“We are celebrating Macca’s life, because it is a terrible loss,” Phibbs said last night.
“We’re very thankful for the time we had with him, and the rest of the season is about putting in for Macca, because he definitely put in for everyone.
“It has emotionally been a very tough week, and this was something you never really quite know how you were going to deal with it. And we’re not over it yet. There’s more tears to come. But tonight there was definitely a feeling that Macca may have been around in spirit. That one was for Macca.”
Greg Growden writes for RugbyHeaven Aus that the night revolved around high emotion. Before kick-off, in a tribute to Mackay, everyone at the ground stood and joined the two teams in a minute’s applause.
At the same time, the ground’s electronic scoreboard was showing highlights of Mackay’s football career, including his moments off the bench in two Brumbies matches this season.
The Brumbies, some in tears, stood in a circle, leading the applause, and when it finished they again went in a huddle to collect their thoughts.
The Brumbies also embroidered Mackay’s name on the left side of their playing jerseys, which they will wear for the rest of the season.
They will also rest the No.18 jersey which Mackay played in his final game for the club, when he came on as a reserve against the Sharks in Durban.
Brumbies named in the No.18 jersey – which is one of the forwards contingent – will for the rest of the season play in either a numberless jersey or another number.
The big concern was that such a long week of heartache would sap the Brumbies’ energy levels.
That wasn’t the case.
Instead in the first half, the Brumbies, returning from South Africa on Monday, showed great resilience and drive to dominate possession, excelled at the breakdown and beat the South Africans at the up-front power game to go 9-0 ahead at the break.
They were especially impressive at the set-piece, succeeding on numerous occasions in fragmenting the Stormers pack, and with it came three penalties which gave the Brumbies the early points.
The match soon degenerated as a spectacle when torrential rain hit midway during the first half, becoming heavier the longer the game went. The storm led to a distinct drop in the skill level, with the ball understandably being spilled here, there and everywhere.
However, the Brumbies weren’t as hampered by the atrocious conditions, and continued to find their momentum primarily because their breakdown work was far more convincing that the Stormers.
Australia’s premier flanker George Smith, as usual, dominated here, constantly being able to turn over possession. A serious lapse early in the second half gave the Stormers the required sniff. From a Brumbies free kick, the Stormers captain Jean de Villiers discovered he was a protected species.
After grabbing the ball, de Villiers was allowed to run for more than 40m, without being touched, to score the first try of the match. But their revival was only momentary as back-up halfback Phibbs, who replaced Josh Holmes early in the second half, succeeded in burrowing over to score, and push the margin out to 10 points.
BRUMBIES 17 (Patrick Phibbs try Mark Gerrard 4 pens)
STORMERS 10 (Jean De Villiers try Peter Grant con, pen)