The ACT Brumbies missed the chance to lock up the Australia conference when they crashed to a 30-16 Super 15 loss at home to the lowly Auckland Blues in Canberra yesterday.
Jake White’s Brumbies, chasing their first finals appearance since 2004, only needed one point to top the Australian table and clinch a playoff spot in the last regular round of the tournament.
However, the result left them depending on the match between defending champions Queensland Reds and NSW Waratahs in Brisbane later yesterday, when a bonus-point victory for the home side would see them steal the Australia conference.
The Blues put a wretched season behind them to secure only their fourth win in 16 games, with their All Blacks Keven Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu and Piri Weepu leading the way, outscoring the Brumbies three tries to one.
Auckland jumped out to a 14-0 lead after 17 minutes through converted tries by LiaKi Moli and Daniel Braid, and went on to lead 21-13 at halftime, before holding on comfortably in the rain.
The Brumbies were uncharacteristically poor in defense, one of their strong points this season, and they missed a total of 34 tackles.
The Brumbies had most of the territory and possession amid rain squalls in the second half, but could not convert it into points.
The loss also soured Brumbies’ hooker Stephen Moore’s 100th Super Rugby appearance.
CRUSADERS V FORCE
The Canterbury Crusaders smashed Australia’s Western Force in the first half before claiming a bonus point 38-24 victory to secure fourth place in the final Super Rugby standings yesterday.
The seven-time champions ran in tries through Israel Dagg, Sean Maitland, Andy Ellis and Matt Todd before the break to ensure a playoff back at Rugby League Park in Christchurch next weekend, most likely against South Africa’s Northern Bulls or Coastal Sharks.
All Blacks Dan Carter and Richie McCaw were withdrawn at halftime for the playoff campaign ahead and the Crusaders took their foot off the gas to allow the Perth-based Force back into the contest in the second half.
The Force scored converted tries through Kyle Godwin, Alfie Mafi and Josh Holmes to give Wallabies lock Nathan Sharpe something to smile about in his 162nd and final Super Rugby match.
The Crusaders started at a canter and the match was less than a minute old when fullback Dagg touched down in the corner and flyhalf Carter converted brilliantly from the touchline.
While there was room for debate about whether Dagg had got the ball down cleanly, there was no doubt about Maitland’s effort 15 minutes later after the winger cut through the defense to score.
However, the fourth official was back in action after 34 minutes and he confirmed the third try, despite scrumhalf Ellis forcing his way over the line with what looked like a double movement.
The pick of the tries came straight from the ensuing kickoff with McCaw, playing at No. 8, snaring the ball and sparking a sweeping move that flanker Todd finished off from 1m out.
Carter had time to kick his second penalty and send his team into the break 32-3 up with fourth place in the final standings sealed.
There was to be no fairytale ending for Sharpe, however, although replacement back Godwin grasped his opportunity to impress with a good take of a low pass for his try and a neat inside pass to give fullback Mafi the second.