Status quo for the leading four teams in Super Rugby Pacific after 11 rounds

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Super Rugby Pacific’s playoff race changed only marginally in the weekend’s 11th round as the pacemakers showed few signs of faltering and the others jostled to keep up.

The Wellington-based Hurricanes are still first, the Auckland-based Blues second, the ACT Brumbies still third and the Hamilton-based Chiefs fourth, an order that has remained unchanged for the last several weeks.

Behind them, the Queensland Reds moved up to fifth with a win over the defending champion Crusaders, the Melbourne Rebels dropped back to sixth after losing to the Blues, the Dunedin, New Zealand-based Highlanders are in seventh place after a win over Moana Pasifika in the first Super Rugby match played in Tonga, and the Fijian Drua hung on to remain in the top eight.

The prospects of teams outside the top-eight playoff zone are beginning to fade. Moana Pasifika is now three points behind the Drua in ninth place, the Christchurch-based Crusaders are a further point back in 10th, the New South Wales Waratahs are a full five points behind the Drua in 11th and the last-place Western Force are all but out of the race.

Standings inevitably will change over the last four weeks of the regular season as top teams meet. The Blues and Hurricanes face each other next weekend in a top-of-the-table clash and the Chiefs still have matches to come against the Blues and the Hurricanes.

At the same time, an outside factor may begin to impinge more on the playoff race. Injuries are starting to make an impact as the 15-round regular season progresses.

As an example, the Hurricanes called on their fourth-choice hooker for Friday’s match against the Waratahs, after their three contracted hookers all were injured in recent weeks. Kianu Kereru-Symes stepped up to the mark in just his third Super Rugby match and his first in two years.

He had an outstanding match in the Hurricanes’ 41-12 win over the Waratahs, though the Hurricanes coaches likely covered their eyes when he had to pause to have an ankle heavily strapped.

The Blues seem likely to lose All Blacks center Rieko Ioane for some time after he was knocked out while making a tackle in the Blues’ 38-11 win over the Rebels in Melbourne. He was still dazed as he was helped from the field.

Blues coach Vern Cotter said Ioane “has taken quite a heavy knock. I reassure everybody that he’s fine but there’ll be precautions around when he takes the field again. He won’t be playing next week.”

The Chiefs lost backrower Samipeni Finau and flyhalf Damian McKenzie during their impressive 56-7 win over the Force.

Finau has been making waves on both sides of the Tasman with his powerful tackling. He left the field Saturday with his left arm in a makeshift sling.

“It sounds like it’s going to be OK but probably we will err on the side of caution and rule him out for this week,” Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan said.

“He took a pretty hard bang there and it looked pretty nasty. But (we think) it’s just a good old-fashioned bang, not a dislocation so I’m hoping that’s the case and it’s nothing long-term.”

McKenzie left the field for a head injury assessment and didn’t return. His loss at this late stage of the season would be a major blow as statistics show the Chiefs play less well in his absence.

The Crusaders have been one of teams hardest hit by injuries this season. That continued Saturday when captain Scott Barrett, returning after a four-week break with a finger injury, lasted only 14 minutes before leaving the field with an apparent back injury in their 33-28 loss to the Reds.


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