The gutsy ACT Brumbies were left shattered in South Africa on Sunday morning after poor discipline, including a red card and two yellow cards, ruined their hopes of a Super Rugby upset.
The Johannesburg Lions powered their way to a 42-24 win against a 14-men Brumbies side at Ellis Park, but the lopsided scoreline was an unfair reflection of the visitor's dominance for 60 minutes.
The Lions scored four of their six tries when the Brumbies had just 13 or 14 men on the field after Rory Arnold was sent off for a high tackle and Sam Carter spent time in the sin bin.
The Brumbies looked the stronger side for most of the contest and found some of the spark that has been lacking in a frustrating and disappointing season.
But that did little to console the devastated players, who are now fighting to snap a five-game losing streak and restore some pride in the club.
Injury added salt to the wounds, with a distraught Rob Valetini limping off late in the game with another knee injury and hooker Robbie Abel ruled out before kick-off with a calf injury.
The Brumbies are set to fly rake Connal McInerney to South Africa to bolster their squad for the clash against the Pretoria Bulls next weekend.
Lock Arnold will also face a nervous wait to see if he will have to face the unpredictable SANZAAR judiciary after he was shown a red card for a high shot on Elton Jantjies.
Arnold's red card was the turning point in the contest. The Brumbies were leading 24-21 when he left the field, but the Lions hit the front soon after when second-row partner Carter was given a yellow card for repeated maul infringements.
The Brumbies were reduced to 13 men and even then they were prepared to attack, but the Lions made them pay the ultimate price and hammered multiple nails in the ACT coffin.
The Brumbies were on the wrong side of a 20-9 penalty count, which overshadowed the good work they did when they had a full team on the field.
"Really, really proud of the team's effort tonight. It's always tough to win when you're down a man and against a Lions team that's hot at home," said Brumbies captain Christian Lealiifano.
"We wanted to take our game forward and we felt like we made some good steps. We've just got to do it more consistently with 15 guys [on the field].
"I think we'll take a lot of confidence out of the team's effort, we'll look at it and go again next week."
The Brumbies will assess Valetini's knee injury this week, but it is believed the 19-year-old back-rower suffered another medial ligament problem.
It was a cruel blow for Valetini just two games into his comeback after injuring his knee in his debut in round one of the season.
There was some good news for the Brumbies. Tevita Kuridrani was back to his best in 100th game, David Pocock did David Pocock things in his return from injury and rookie Folau Faingaa was outstanding as the sole hooker.
But the loss ends the Brumbies' faint finals hopes having lost five in a row in the worst losing streak since 2011. They have won just three of their 11 games this year.
They are second last on the Australian conference table and the overall ladder, putting them in a fight to avoid slipping to the first wooden spoon in Brumbies history.
Everything seemed rosy in the opening stages when it took the Brumbies just 65 seconds to score after Tom Banks turned on the afterburners and exploded through a tiny gap.
It was the perfect way to start a two-game tour, but the delight lasted less than a minute before the pressure valve was released when the Brumbies dropped the ball from the restart.
The Lions made them pay straight away. They were twice held up over the line before inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg brushed off two flimsy tackles to level the score.
The good news for the Brumbies was that it didn't dent their attacking confidence. Moments later they were down the other end of the field and turned down a shot from in front of the posts to go for another try.
The decision paid off when hulking centre Kuridrani crashed over from close range in his milestone match.
The fast-paced end-to-end action took a turn when Arnold was sent to the sin bin for pulling down a rolling maul, opening the door for the Lions to level the score again thanks to a try by hooker Robbie Coetzee.
The Lions hit with another blow on the stroke of half-time when they went to the maul again and prop Ruan Dreyer scored to give the home side the lead for the first time in the game.
The Brumbies' defence had to withstand an avalanche of Lions attack after half-time, scrambling like men possessed before finally getting their hands on the ball to steal the lead back.
It was Banks who broke the Lions open up the middle and raced 25 metres to score his second try of the game.
The game took another turn when Arnold was in the action again, this time hitting Jantjies high and he was penalised with a red card.
It got worse when Sam Carter was sent to the sin bin moments later for multiple maul infringements and the Lions wasted no time taking advantage, with Marnus Schoeman scoring for another lead change.
The Brumbies did their best to hang in the contest, but Shaun Reynolds and Lourens Erasmus landed the killer blows with time running out to break the visitors.
AT A GLANCE
Super Rugby: JOHANNESBURG LIONS 42 (Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Robbie Coetzee, Ruan Dreyer, Marnus Schoeman, Shaun Reynolds, Lourens Erasmus tries; Elton Jantjies 6 conversions) bt ACT BRUMBIES 24 (Tom Banks 2, Tevita Kuridrani tries; Christian Lealiifano 3 conversions, penalty) at Ellis Park on Sunday morning Australian time. Referee: Nick Briant.
Chris Dutton is a sports reporter at The Canberra Times.
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