Super Rugby Pacific throws up predictable semis as Rebels bow out

Tupou Vaa'i of the Chiefs wins a lineout during the Super Rugby Pacific quarterfinal match between the Waikato Chiefs and the Queensland Reds at FMG Stadium in Hamilton, New Zealand, Friday, June 7, 2024. (Aaron Gillions/Photosport/AAP Image via AP)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — After 15 weeks Super Rugby Pacific has thrown up the semifinal match-ups that have been apparent almost from the start of the season.

With only a few moments of concern, the four top-seeded teams played their way into next weekend’s semifinals in which the Auckland-based Blues will host the ACT Brumbies and the Wellington-based Hurricanes will host the Hamilton-based Chiefs.

The top-seeded Hurricanes took an unusually long time to score their first points but went on to beat the Melbourne Rebels 47-20, by seven tries to two, troubled only by the Rebels’ two-try revival in the second half.

In contrast, the Chiefs made a spectacular start to the first quarterfinal on Friday, scoring 28 unanswered points in the first 23 minutes. They also fended off a second half rally by the Queensland Reds before winning 43-21.

The second-seeded Blues possibly made harder work than they should have of beating the Fijian Drua 36-5. The Blues’ set-piece dominance allowed them to control territory and possession in a first half in which they scored three tries.

The Drua scored the best try of the match after halftime but the Blues closed out the match with the help of a double to winger Caleb Clarke.

The quarterfinal in Canberra between the third-seeded Brumbies and the sixth-ranked Highlanders was the closest of the four. The Dunedin-based Highlanders led 16-10 heading into halftime. But Brumbies hooker Bradley Slater scored tries just before the break and just after, giving the host's a 22-16 lead which they extended while holding the Highlanders scoreless in the second half.

It might be of concern to the competition that a pecking order clearly established in March endured throughout the regular season and was so clearly manifested in one-sided quarterfinals.

But Super Rugby Pacific already has challenges ahead with the dissolution of the Rebels who played their last game on Saturday after 14 years in the competition. Rugby Australia will not renew the Rebels’ because of concern about the club's financial stability.

Super Rugby now has to find a way to make a coherent and compelling format from an 11-team championship comprising five New Zealand, four Australian and two Pacific teams.

The Rebels have struggled to find a foothold in the highly-competitive Melbourne sporting market, dominated by Australian Rules football and featuring the successful National Rugby League franshise the Melbourne Storm and two A-League soccer teams.

But they have put together a strong squad this season which now will be dispersed, possibly strengthening the other Australian franchises or weakening Australian rugby if those players head overseas.

The Rebels exited with no bitterness but a little regret.

“It was our goal from the start of the year to be the greatest Rebels team ever,” captain Rob Leota said. “We had high hopes to go further but you can’t give opportunities to a team like the Hurricanes.

“For this club, we hope we did everyone proud and hopefully we can see this team come back in the next couple of years.”

The Hurricanes will carefully review the way in which the Rebels blunted their attack until the 25th minute when they scored their first try. When offloads begin to stick they became too much for the defense.

The Blues appear to have the biggest injury concern heading into the semifinals after captain Patrick Tuipulotu left the field Saturday with a knee injury. Head coach Vern Cotter said it was “too early to say” whether Tuipulotu could line up against the Brumbies.

“It will be assessed again tomorrow morning and then we will have a clearer idea on how he’s come through the night,” he said.

The Brumbies once again have kept alive Australian interest in the finals series.

“Finals footy is all about taking your chances and I thought we did that in the second half,” Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa said.


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