The Waikato Chiefs yesterday stormed into their eighth straight Super Rugby playoffs with a thumping win over the Melbourne Rebels, while the Otago Highlanders thrashed the New South Wales Waratahs to keep their slim finals hopes alive.
Spearheaded by All Black Brodie Retallick, the Chiefs needed a bonus-point victory to book their place in the last eight and delivered emphatically, running in nine tries in a 59-8 hammering.
It guarantees them at least an eighth-placed finish, which would mean a quarter-final away to the dominant Crusaders, but they could potentially move higher.
The Rebels have now leaked a massive 125 points in their past two outings after a 66-0 rout by the Crusaders last week to end their season on a demoralizing note.
In Invercargill, New Zealand, the Highlanders pummeled the Waratahs 49-12, scoring seven tries to two in a match where both teams required a bonus point to have any chance of making the final eight.
Although it keeps them alive, results elsewhere need to fall their way.
The Chiefs bounced back from a poor start to the season to find form over the past month, with three wins in four matches to set them up for the do-or-die clash in Melbourne.
“We’re lucky enough to slip into the playoffs which we’re pretty excited about,” Chiefs skipper Sam Cane said. “It’s a great feeling, especially as there were times during the season when we were unsure whether things would pan out.”
On a slippery surface, the Rebels suffered an early blow with Wallabies winger Marika Koroibete taking an elbow and playing no further part.
After he departed the Chiefs put the first points on the board with a superb 80m counterattack finished by Cane.
They got a second when Quade Cooper’s attempted grubber-kick was charged down by Shaun Stevenson, who took a favorable bounce to run to the line.
A poor pass by Reece Hodge after the halftime hooter handed the Chiefs their third with Lachlan Boshier making the most of the error to send them into the break ahead 21-3.
The second half was electric from the Chiefs, who scored four tries — Sean Wainui, Anton Lienert-Brown, a second to Stevenson and Jack Debreczeni — in an opening 16-minute blitz.
Matt Philip pulled a try back, but further five-pointers to Marty McKenzie and Stevenson compounded their misery. Debreczeni kicked six conversions.
The result for the Highlanders was never in doubt after they seized control with a six-try blitz in the first half to stun the Waratahs, who rested five key Wallabies with their season already over bar a miracle.
“We knew we had to score some tries so we’ve done our part and at times played some really good footy,” said Highlanders captain Luke Whitelock, whose team showed a class they have struggled to find this year.
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