Chiefs topple Brumbies to seal top spot in Super Rugby Pacific
A relentless Waikato Chiefs cruised past the ACT Brumbies 31-21 on Saturday to ensure they will finish the Super Rugby Pacific season top of the table, booking a home quarter-final.
Sam Cane's side have been dominant all season with victory in freezing Canberra their 12th from 13 games, leaving them uncatchable on 54 points ahead of the Canterbury Crusaders with one match to play.
They can now look forward to a quarter-final clash in Hamilton against the eighth-placed side, currently Otago Highlanders although five teams remain in contention for the last two knockout places still up for grabs.
"A very tough game especially in the first half. But defence is something we have been proud of all season and it fronted up again tonight," said Cane.
"We knew the importance of this game and we treated it like that."
A stunning solo try from Luke Jacobson and another from Josh Ioane sent them to the break with a 17-7 lead and they never looked like relinquishing it.
A perfectly timed interception by Cortez Ratima bagged them a third before Shaun Stevenson added a fourth, with Damien McKenzie booting all four conversions and a penalty.
The defending champion Canterbury Crusaders will also benefit from being at home in the knockout rounds, with their 42-18 romp against the NSW Waratahs in Christchurch all but ensuring they finish second.
That would pit them against the seventh-place side, currently Queensland Reds.
Fly-half Richie Mo'unga was a try-scorer and did not miss a shot at goal in a 17-point haul as the Crusaders notched a ninth win from their last 10 games, after a sluggish start to the season.
A highlight was the starting appearance of prop John Afoa, who arrived from France two days earlier following a plea from coach Scott Robertson who was without three injured All Blacks -- Joe Moody, George Bower and Fletcher Newell.
- Whirlwind -
The former Auckland Blues tighthead had not played a Super Rugby match since 2011 and, at the age of 39 years and 223 days, became the competition's oldest player.
After his 496th first-class game -- more than half of which have been with European clubs Ulster, Gloucester and Bristol -- Afoa jumped at the chance to play for the Crusaders.
"When the call came, it doesn't matter if it's the Crusaders or the Blues, I was just keen to come home and play in front of New Zealanders and my family," he told broadcaster Sky Sport.
"The last couple of days have been a bit of a whirlwind but it's been amazing."
David Havili was among the first-half try-scorers as the Crusaders pulled 28-8 clear, but the All Blacks midfielder limped off late on with a hamstring injury.
The Auckland Blues could feasibly overtake the Crusaders, but they would need a bonus point win in their final game against the Highlanders and other results to go their way.
A dazzling four-try display from Mark Telea guided them to a frantic 36-25 win over the Wellington Hurricanes at a rain-soaked Eden Park to push them into the third, a point ahead of the Brumbies.
Earlier, last-placed Moana Pasifika narrowly missed securing their first win of the season, going down 47-46 to Fijian Drua in Lautoka.
Moana fly-half Christian Leali'ifano missed an 80th-minute conversion attempt to lift Drua to 10th on the ladder, leaving them needing to beat the Reds next week to have any chance of qualifying for the top eight.