Waratahs clinch top spot in Aussie conference
The Waratahs took an important step towards defending their Super XV title with a comprehensive 31-5 drubbing of the Reds on Saturday night. Forwards Dave Dennis, Jacques Potgieter and Dean Mumm, and replacement halfback Brendan McKibbin all found their way over for second-half tries after the ’Tahs were restricted to just a 3-0 scoreline at the break.
The victory saw the champs finish atop the Australian conference and snare second place overall, which crucially gives them this weekend off and a guaranteed home semi-final in a fortnight’s time against the Highlanders or Chiefs. Given their big-match experience, the Waratahs are a team none of the other contenders will be looking forward to taking on in coming weeks – particularly in Sydney.
Beaten Brumbies face tough roadie
A 37-24 loss on home soil to the out-of-contention Crusaders has consigned the Brumbies to a trip to South Africa to take on conference winners the Stormers in an elimination final. David Pocock continued his hot streak of tryscoring form with one of the Brumbies’ three five-pointers, but the visitors managed four tries – including a double to irrepressible wing giant Nameni Nadolo – as they sent franchise legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter (who booted 17 points) out as winners in their last game in red and black. The Crusaders scored more points in 2015 than any other side and finished with the second-best for-and-against record, but the controversial conference system saw the perennial heavyweights miss the playoffs for the first time since 2001 by a solitary point.
A win would have provided the Brumbies with a far shorter journey to Dunedin to take on the Highlanders, but the Canberra-based outfit may fancy their chances more against the Stormers – despite the rigours of travelling to the Republic. The Stormers are also coming into the match on the back of a heavy loss to an also-ran, crushed 34-12 by the Sharks in Round 18.
Highlanders and Chiefs on collision course
New Zealand rivals the Highlanders and Chiefs will meet in a mouth-watering qualifier showdown in Dunedin on Saturday after the teams experienced contrasting fortunes in Round 18. The Highlanders ran in seven tries as they whipped the hapless Blues 44-7 at Eden Park, clinching fourth spot with the second-best record in the Super XV (11 wins, 5 losses, 53 points).
The return of Sonny Bill Williams was not enough to propel the Chiefs to an upset of runaway minor premiers the Hurricanes in New Plymouth, going down 21-13 in a tough encounter. Filling in for Beauden Barrett in the No.10, James Marshall starred with an intercept try and a break to set up captain Conrad Smith for a vital five-pointer. The Chiefs will be greeted by a bumper crowd at Forsyth Barr Stadium this weekend for what promises to be the biggest match of the season to date, with a daunting semi showdown with the Waratahs awaiting the victor.
Strugglers finish on a positive note
There was some belated joy for some of the competition’s most disappointing outfits in the final round. The Force notched just their third win of the season on Friday night, toppling the much-improved Rebels 13-11 – although it was not enough to offload the wooden spoon, finishing one point shy of the Blues after failing to secure a four-try bonus. The Cheetahs, last in the South African conference, leapfrogged the Reds into 12th spot with a six-tries-to-four, 42-29 away victory over the Bulls.
SUPER XV ROUND 18 RESULTS
Highlanders 44 d. Blues 7 @ Eden Park
Force 13 d. Rebels 11 @ AAMI Park
Crusaders 37 d. Brumbies 24 @ GIO Stadium
Hurricanes 21 d. Chiefs 13 @ Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Waratahs 31 d. Reds 5 @ Allianz Stadium
Cheetahs 42 d. Bulls 29 @ Loftus Versfeld
Sharks 34 d. Stormers 12 @ Kings Park