ACT Brumbies take last Super Rugby quarterfinal spot
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's ACT Brumbies secured the last of eight playoff spots in Super Rugby on Saturday, while which team finishes top overall will be decided in the final game of the regular season.
That last game sees the Lions of South Africa away to the Jaguares of Argentina, with the Lions needing to avoid defeat to reclaim first place from New Zealand's Hurricanes.
Either way, the Lions and the Hurricanes will both have home quarterfinals, but both would likely prefer to play the eighth-place Sharks than the seventh-place Crusaders, who are record seven-time champions.
The other two quarterfinals were decided, with the Brumbies hosting the defending champion Highlanders of New Zealand and South Africa's Stormers at home to New Zealand's Chiefs.
The Brumbies clinched the Australian conference title and the last place in the quarters with a 24-10 victory over the Western Force.
The Stormers warmed up for the knockout games by putting 50 points over the Southern Kings in Cape Town, with center Huw Jones scoring four tries and wing Leolin Zas a hat trick in the eight-try, 52-24 win.
Also in South Africa, the Bulls beat the Cheetahs 43-17 in a game that had no bearing on the playoffs, with three-time title winners the Bulls already eliminated from contention.
Earlier, the Wellington-based Hurricanes overcame big odds to secure their home quarterfinal, topping the New Zealand conference when they took a bonus point from a 35-10 win over the Crusaders. The previously first-place Chiefs then lost 25-15 to the Highlanders, a costly defeat for the Chiefs, who must travel to South Africa instead of hosting a quarterfinal.
In a thrilling finish to the regular season, the Hurricanes came from fourth place in the tightly contested New Zealand group to secure first place, then watched the Highlanders rally in the second half to dump the Chiefs off the top.
The Highlanders-Chiefs match was played with frenetic pace and energy in a remarkable performance from the Highlanders, who returned to New Zealand from Argentina only on Tuesday. The first half saw only a try to each team, the first to Toni Pulu for the Chiefs and the next brilliantly scored by winger Waisake Naholo for the Highlanders.
But the Highlanders scored 10 points in the second half when the Chiefs were reduced to 14 men by the sin-binning of flanker Tom Sanders for a dangerous tackle on Ben Smith. They turned a 10-8 deficit into an 18-10 lead during that period with a penalty to Lima Sopoaga and a superb team try finished by flanker Dan Pryor.
The Chiefs hit back with a try to Lachlan Boshier before Sopoaga's last score sealed the win and the Hurricanes' home playoff.
"Good on the Hurricanes, they deserve it," Highlanders captain Ben Smith said. "It's a great competition isn't it?"
The Lions, previously perennial Super Rugby strugglers, could complete a remarkable turnaround by finishing top. However, the Johannesburg-based team did pick a greatly weakened lineup for the trip to Argentina, deciding to keep every one of its starting 15 at home in South Africa to rest.