The ACT Brumbies underlined their Super 15 title credentials with a superb 23-6 win over arch-rivals the NSW Waratahs on Saturday in Canberra.
However, impressive flyhalf Christian Lealiifano, who scored two conversions and three penalties, suffered what appeared to be a major knee injury after the full-time siren sounded, taking the gloss off a big victory.
There was not much in it at the break, but the Brumbies outplayed their near neighbours in every department and kept the Waratahs scoreless in the second half despite losing skipper Ben Mowen to a yellow card with eight minutes left.
The smaller Brumbies pack easily won the battle up front, allowing halfback Nic White to control the match in an outstanding individual performance that will surely see him win Wallaby selection for the June Test matches.
The Brumbies are now nine points clear of New South Wales at the top of the Australian conference, with the Queensland Reds a further point back ahead of their clash with the Crusaders on Sunday.
"It was a really important game for us, particularly with the conference system," Mowen said.
"We're reasonably pleased but we're not getting too far ahead of ourselves."
The Waratahs started well and had all the early ball and territory but were unable to take advantage, and the home side struck first with a 10th minute Lealiifano penalty from almost right in front.
However, hands in the ruck from Brumbies lock Scott Fardy allowed NSW scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin to equalise just seven minutes later.
The Brumbies weathered the early NSW storm and gradually worked their way back into the match with their hard running loose forwards beginning to make inroads around the rucks and mauls.
Another Lealiifano penalty made it 6-3 before McKibbin's second three-pointer tied it up three minutes from halftime.
But in the first minute of injury time, Brumbies winger Henry Speight burst down the sideline and brushed off Berrick Barnes and Adam Ashley-Cooper to score beside the posts and send the home side into the break leading 13-6.
The Brumbies came out firing after halftime and battered the Waratahs line in the opening few minutes, centre Andrew Smith eventually capitalising when the Waratahs ran out of defenders after multiple phases of attack.
Lealiifano converted from 10 metres in from the sideline to make it 20-6 then made it safe for the Brumbies with his third penalty in the 71st minute.
The Waratahs never looked like bridging the gap.
"I can cop it when you get outplayed out there, but not when you get out-willed," Waratahs captain Benn Robinson said.
"That's a pretty disappointing performance from us -- there were a few key areas where they definitely got on top of us."