Standings undisturbed despite drama-filled round of Super Rugby Pacific

Brumbies Rob Valenti runs at the defense during their Super Rugby game against the Crusaders in Canberra, Australia, Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The weekend’s 13th round of Super Rugby Pacific contained patches of drama which might have pleased Shakespeare. In the end, it proved to be much ado about nothing.

There were two penalty tries, including one which might have ousted the defending champion Crusaders from the playoffs for the first time in a decade. There was a red card for foot tripping and there were closer than expected matches for top four teams the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Brumbies.

But those events had no impact on championship standings: the Blues stayed first, the Hurricanes second, the Brumbies third, the Chiefs fourth, the Queensland Reds fifth, the Melbourne Rebels sixth, the Highlanders seventh and the Fijian Drua eighth.

Those standings look almost locked in with two rounds remaining in the regular season, after which the top eight teams contest the playoffs.

The Drua may be vulnerable in eighth place and they play the Highlanders in Dunedin next, still looking for their first away win this season. Their 28-19 win over the Queensland Reds in Suva on Saturday was their fifth win in six home matches this season and, if they lose to the Highlanders, they will still have a chance to seal a playoffs place when they play the Rebels in Lautoka in the last round.

The gap between the top four teams, who take home advantage into the quarterfinals, and the next four is now 11 points meaning the top four teams are known but the final finishing order still has to be decided. The Hamilton-based Chiefs have to play the Wellington-based Hurricanes and the Auckland-based Blues in the last two rounds.

The ninth-place Western Force have a faint chance of forcing their way into the top eight but it depends on the Drua’s results and their own performances in a tough finish against the Reds and Brumbies.

After Saturday’s crushing 31-24 loss to the Brumbies, the Crusaders are back in 10th place, six points out of the top eight, having lost 10 matches in a season for the first time.

The Crusaders had rallied from 10 points down Saturday to draw level with the Brumbies at 24-24. In the last minute Crusaders lock Quinten Strange batted the ball over the dead ball line with Brumbies players around him and referee decided his illegal action had prevented a try. He awarded the penalty try that decided the match.

Head coach Rob Penney said the match typified the Crusaders performances throughout the season. They were competitive but paid heavily to crucial errors.

“I was really proud of the effort and the performance,” Penney said. “We did enough to win that, a bit shattered that we weren’t able to get that result.”

Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said the ref made the right call.

“I think that’s sustained pressure, isn’t it?” Larkham said. “We’d been down there maybe four times in the last 10 minutes of the game trying to get some points.

“And then players who were under a bit of pressure ... tapped it out because they thought that was the only option. I think it was the right call.”

The Drua held out the Queensland Reds in a match played in hot conditions at a packed national stadium in Suva. They were helped by a red card to the Reds’ Suva-born winger Suliasi Vunivalu who received a yellow card and conceded a penalty try for a foot trip early in the first half and a second yellow for another foot trip in the second.

The Blues defended first place for the first time this season, scoring 26 unanswered points in the second half to beat the Highlanders 47-13. They now top the table by three points from the Hurricanes who they beat in round 12 to take over first place.

The Hurricanes opened the round with a scrappy 32-24 win over 11th-place Moana Pasifika. Starting with a mostly second-string lineup, the Hurricanes needed impact from their bench to clinch the win.

The Chiefs needed a late penalty to Damian McKenzie to beat the Rebels 26-23 in Melbourne. The match may be the Rebels last at home: their future is uncertain after this season because of financial problems.


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