PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Argentina's Jaguares qualified for the Super Rugby playoffs for the first time despite the end of their seven-match winning streak on Saturday.
The Jaguares lost to the Bulls 43-34 at Loftus Versfeld and missed a chance to overtake the idle Lions for the South African conference lead. But the Sharks then lost to the Stormers 27-16 in Cape Town in the last match of the 18th round, guaranteeing the Jaguares at least a wild-card berth in the playoffs.
Also, the New South Wales Waratahs clinched first place in the Australian conference, and New Zealand's Hurricanes, Chiefs, and Highlanders also ensured spots in the playoffs.
The eighth and last spot was up for grabs between the Melbourne Rebels and the Sharks, and possibly the ACT Brumbies.
The Jaguares, running from everywhere, were 19-0 up on the Bulls after 20 minutes. But by halftime, the Bulls led 21-19. Three more tries extended their lead to 43-29.
After the fulltime hooter, Jaguares flanker Pablo Matera scored his second try of the match and Emiliano Boffelli lined up the conversion for a losing bonus point. But he hit the post. The bonus point wasn't missed a few hours later thanks to the Sharks' loss.
The Stormers, out of playoff contention and playing their last match, just managed to hold off the Sharks, whose comeback from 21-9 down at halftime ran aground midway through the second half when a Lwazi Mvovo try was ruled out after video replay.
In the end, the Stormers snapped a four-match losing streak, and the Sharks won only once away from home this season, their fewest in 13 years.
The Waratahs clinched their conference by thrashing Japan's Sunwolves 77-25. Israel Folau, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Alex Newsome scored two tries each.
Center Ngani Laumape scored four tries as the Wellington-based Hurricanes ended a three-match losing streak by defeating the Auckland-based Blues 42-24.
After losses to the Crusaders, Highlanders and ACT Brumbies in which their attacking game failed them, the Hurricanes reverted to a simpler style in wet conditions and scored six tries, all but one from set-pieces.
The Blues rallied twice within four points, but Laumape's hat-trick try quelled the threat of a comeback. His fourth from an intercept sealed a bonus-point win which keeps the Hurricanes in line for a home playoff.
"It's been a tough few weeks but it just shows when we hold onto the ball we can do some dangerous things, when we apply pressure at the right end of the field," said Hurricanes captain Brad Shields, who played his 100th Super Rugby game.
Flyhalf Damian McKenzie produced an outstanding individual performance to guide the Chiefs past the Brumbies 24-19.
The Chiefs led 17-0 at halftime and 24-5 with 15 minutes remaining but eventually had to hold out the Brumbies for their fourth straight win.
Against the run of play, the Chiefs led 10-0 when McKenzie started and finished a brilliant fast break, scoring and converting a try for 17-0.
Winger Henry Speight scored the first try of the second half for the Brumbies but McKenzie denied them another with a try-saving tackle on winger Andy Muirhead after a break by David Pocock.
The Chiefs broadened their lead through replacement Johnny Fa'auli before being reduced to 14 men by a yellow card against Jesse Parete for a late and high tackle. The Brumbies scored tries through Speight and fullback Tom Banks in Parete's absence, cutting the lead to five points, and were hot on attack when the final whistle sounded.