The ACT Brumbies edged closer to clinching the Australian conference with a grinding 19-15 Super 15 win over the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney yesterday.
The Brumbies maintained their five-point lead over defending champions the Queensland Reds at the top of the Australian group, with their first win in Sydney for a decade and their fifth consecutive away victory.
They are set to seal the conference and their place in this month’s top-six playoffs by earning at least one point against the lowly Auckland Blues in Canberra next weekend.
The Waratahs hit the front 15-9 with just over 30 minutes left in a grinding Australian derby at the sparsely-populated Olympic Stadium, only for the Brumbies to come home the stronger in the closing stages.
Fijian winger Henry Speight scored off Zack Holmes’ floating pass, evading Wallabies backs Adam Ashley-Cooper and Drew Mitchell on the right wing just after the hour.
The Waratahs, with 10 Wallabies in their starting XV, have now lost seven games by four points or less this season and are well out of contention for the playoffs later this month.
The Waratahs scored two tries to the Brumbies’ one, with young flyhalf Holmes landing two penalties and a conversion, and Jesse Mogg two penalties.
“It wasn’t exactly the victory we were after, but you’ve got to give credit to the ’Tahs, they are a quality side across the park and coming up here and winning, it’s not something the Brumbies have done since 2002,” Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen said.
The Waratahs looked threatening at times and scored tries through Wallabies Tatafu Polota-Nau and Berrick Barnes, but made some crucial errors in the second half as the Brumbies hit back.
“It wasn’t a good performance by us, we’re a better team than that,” Waratahs skipper Benn Robinson said. “The Brumbies came out and played a solid game tonight and they deserved to win. As a team we’ll definitely learn and grow from this. It is disappointing when we lose so closely.”
The Waratahs can end the Queensland Reds’ season if they win in Brisbane next Saturday in their final game of an underachieving campaign.
BLUES 32, FORCE 9
The Auckland Blues unleashed a three-try burst in the second half to beat an injury-ravaged Western Force at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, yesterday and boost their hopes of avoiding Super Rugby’s wooden spoon.
Flanker Steven Luatua scored a try in the first half and Charles Piutau, Ma’a Nonu and Luke Braid all crossed in quick succession in the second to secure the Blues their third win in the penultimate round of a dismal season.
The Blues took a 13-9 lead at the end of an uninspiring first half littered with handling errors and befitting of the teams’ lowly standing.
The Blues had the edge in territory and Ma’a Nonu raised a brief burst of enthusiasm from the sparse crowd by driving toward the line in the 28th minute, but was denied a try by video review.
However, Luatua burrowed over the line near the right-hand corner moments later to put the Blues up 8-6 against the Force who lacked captain David Pocock and veteran lock Nathan Sharpe because of injury.
Blues fullback Piutau broke open the game 15 minutes after the break, touching down at the right corner again after taking a long pass from Nonu.
Nonu helped himself to his 100th first-class try minutes later, cantering 10m to the line, with an off-load from substitute Peter Saili cutting the Force defense to ribbons.