The ACT Brumbies virtually secured the Australian conference and qualified for their first Super Rugby finals in nine years with a bonus-point 39-17 victory over the Melbourne Rebels in Canberra yesterday.
Missing five current Wallabies, the Brumbies moved five points clear of their nearest conference rivals, the Queensland Reds, with one match left to play before next month’s playoffs.
The Brumbies shook off their first-half lethargy to storm away from the Rebels, after leading 10-3 at halftime, to score four tries in the second half and win convincingly.
It is the first time the Brumbies have qualified for the Super Rugby finals since winning the southern hemisphere provincial series in 2004.
Former South African winger Clyde Rathbone scored a brace of tries, with other tries from Scott Sio, Henry Speight, Colby Faingaa and Zack Holmes.
Replacement scrumhalf Ian Prior kicked three conversions and fullback Jesse Mogg a long-range penalty.
Stand-in captain and Wallabies hopeful Nic White left the field in the ninth minute clutching his shoulder, while Wallaby coach Robbie Deans looked on ahead of naming Tuesday’s final Test squad to face the British and Irish Lions.
The Rebels, without their two Wallabies James O’Connor and Nick Phipps, and sidelined injured forwards Scott Higginbotham, Hugh Pyle and Jarrod Saffy, closed the gap to 13-10 after a try by winger Tom English against the run of play.
However, the Brumbies hit back with four consecutive tries to seize control of the match and clinch a four-try bonus point.
“I know that we are proud of winning the conference and we get into the playoffs for the first time in a long time, but our coaching staff are really proud with the way the bench really stood up and took their chance tonight,” Brumbies coach Jake White said.
There are only two Australian-only matches this weekend, because New Zealand and South African teams have a three-week break for Test rugby.