Rugby-Blues, Brumbies lock in home Super Rugby quarter-finals

  • Rugby
  • Friday, 02 Jun 2023

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Auckland Blues and ACT Brumbies locked in home Super Rugby Pacific quarter-finals with victories over the Otago Highlanders and Melbourne Rebels on Friday, wins that also had an impact on the five-way battle for the last two playoff spots.

The Blues had to grind out the 16-9 victory over the Highlanders at Eden Park which assured them of third place in the standings and a quarter-final against the New South Wales Waratahs.

The Brumbies later cemented fourth place with a 33-17 win over the Rebels in a more lively contest at Canberra Stadium and will play host to the Wellington Hurricanes in the playoffs next week.

"We had to work hard for it but to able to come back here next week, it's a good feeling," said Brumbies captain Nic White.

After the Highlander's loss, the Rebels had been in with a shout of moving into the playoff spots but Friday's match was a snapshot of much of their season -- plenty to like about the performance but ultimately no end result.

Carter Gordon again impressed at flyhalf and scored a try on the burst through the midfield to give the Rebels a 10-7 lead after half an hour.

The Brumbies already had a try from flying winger Corey Toole, however, and hooker Connal McInerney went over before halftime to give the hosts a 14-10 lead.

Wallabies fullback Tom Wright added a third try after the break with a brilliant length-of-the-field counterattack that he started and finished, before centre Ollie Sapsford added a fourth in the 52nd minute.

The Rebels, who lost both hookers to injury, kept on hammering away at the Brumbies defensive line but the home side held firm and winger Andy Muirhead put a gloss on the victory with a fifth try a minute from time.

Earlier in Auckland, only lock Patrick Tuipulotu managed to breach the staunch Highlanders defence but his try and 11 points from the boot of Harry Plummer proved enough for the Blues to prevail in an arm-wrestle of a contest.

The Highlanders were looking for a first victory over New Zealand opposition in 16 matches and needed a bonus-point win to be sure of a spot in the playoffs.

For all their steely defence, the Highlanders did not offer enough attacking intent to get the result they needed and had to be satisfied with three Sam Gilbert penalties, the last of which came a minute from time and secured them a losing bonus point.

"We gave it our best, we gave a lot of heart, but we just couldn't quite finish it off," said Highlanders captain Billy Harmon.

The Highlanders remain in the eighth and final playoff spot on 24 points but the Western Force (22) and Fijian Drua (21) could overhaul them with victories in their matches on Saturday.

The Drua play the seventh-placed Queensland Reds, who are not yet sure of their playoff spot, in Suva before the Force take on the table-topping Waikato Chiefs in Perth in the final match of the regular season.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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