Brumbies romp to victory in the Republic
Coach Stephen Larkham declared it the Brumbies’ best performance in years, and it was difficult to argue following his side’s comprehensive 39-19 sudden-death drubbing of the Stormers in Cape Town. The franchise’s regular season campaign had been unmistakably patchy ahead of the arduous South African road trip, but it all belatedly clicked as the Brumbies carved out a comprehensive six-tries-to-one result.
Winger Joe Tomane bagged a brilliant first-half hat-trick, while prop Scott Sio, No.8 Ita Vaea and fullback Jesse Mogg all found their way onto the score-sheet as the Brumbies turned a 24-6 advantage at the break into a 20-point triumph. A long-range intercept try early in the second half by fullback Cheslin Kolbe was the Stormers’ only breach of the Brumbies’ line.
The match wasn’t without its negatives for the Brumbies, however, with winger Henry Speight red-carded for a dangerous tackle in the 73rd minute. His semi-final fate rests with the judiciary.
The Brumbies now look ahead to a daunting clash with runaway competition leaders the Hurricanes in Wellington for a spot in the final.
Highlanders march on
It was the Highlanders’ first home playoff since the 1999 final, and they repaid a packed house at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium with a pulsating 24-14 victory over a gallant Chiefs outfit. All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith and wing sensation Waisake Naholo combined brilliantly for the latter to finish off a 50-metre try, which would be the only five-pointer of a exciting and gruelling first half. But the boot of Chiefs flyhalf Andrew Horrell saw the visitors go into halftime with a 9-8 lead.
The Highlanders hit the front again early in the second half via another Smith-Naholo trick shot, the No.9 darting blindside from a 5-metre scrum and producing a flick pass for his Fijian flyer to bag a double. The hosts did not relinquish the lead from that point, despite a withering fight-back from the desperate Chiefs. Fullback Damian McKenzie sliced up the Highlanders’ defence virtually every time he touched the ball, while superstar lock Brodie Retallick, making his first appearance in months, scored his side’s only try to reduce the deficit to just four points.
But the plucky Highlanders’ no-name pack dug in and closed out the match as in-form flyhalf Lima Sopoaga’s two late penalties put them out of reach. The result propelled the long-suffering Highlanders into their first semi-final since 2002, with a blockbuster against the defending champion Waratahs in Sydney looming for the fairytale team. Boom flanker Dan Pryor will miss the match, however, after dislocating his elbow in the latter stages.
All Black rewards for Super stars
New Zealand has named a 41-man squad for the upcoming Test against Samoa and subsequent Rugby Championship campaign, and several uncapped players’ breakout Super XV seasons were rewarded with a maiden call-up.
Highlanders duo Sopoaga and Naholo, livewire Hurricanes outside-back Nehe Milne-Skudder and lock teammate James Broadhurst, and Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor were the five new faces when coach Steve Hansen and selectors Grant Fox and Ian Foster read out the team on Sunday.
In other talking points, Tawera Kerr-Barlow was named despite missing the Chiefs’ entire campaign with a knee injury, while Israel Dagg made the cut after being sidelined since the early rounds with a calf injury and Charles Piutau got the nod after upsetting officials with his decision to head to Ireland post-World Cup.
SUPER XV QUALIFYING WEEK RESULTS
Highlanders 24 d. Chiefs 14 @ Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Brumbies 39 d. Stormers 19 @ Newlands Stadium, Cape Town
BYE Hurricanes, Waratahs
Hurricanes v Brumbies @ Westpac Stadium, Wellington – 5.35pm (AEST), Saturday, June 27
Waratahs v Highlanders @ Allianz Stadium, Sydney – 7.55pm (AEST), Saturday, June 27