The ACT Brumbies clung on to edge the Queensland Reds in a top-of-the-table clash and clock their fifth straight win on a weekend of Super Rugby Pacific hit hard by coronavirus.
In a replay of last year’s Super Rugby AU final that the Reds won, Dan McKellar’s Brumbies repelled late attacks in a pulsating match to win 16-12 in Canberra.
It improved their record to 5-0 for the season to move four points clear of the Reds at the top of the 12-team table as the Queenslanders unbeaten run ground to a halt.
A resurgent NSW Waratahs also tasted victory, piling more pressure on the Melbourne Rebels with a 24-19 triumph, while Western Force snatched a nail-biting 20-18 win over Fijian Drua after a last-gasp penalty in Sydney.
But tournament newcomers Moana Pasifika suffered a heavy 59-12 thumping by the Waikato Chiefs at Auckland.
They were the only games played with Omicron-variant cases of Covid-19 forcing the postponement of all three round five matches originally scheduled in New Zealand.
Instead, Auckland-based Moana and the Chiefs met for a clash that had been postponed last month because of infections in the Pacific islanders camp.
Coronavirus has thrown the season into disarray since its launch in mid-February with six matches unable to be played and five yet to be rescheduled, raising the prospect of a fixture pile-up later in the season.
Among the round five casualties was the Canterbury Crusaders showdown against the Auckland Blues, with the 12-time Super Rugby champions slipping to fourth on the ladder behind the Waratahs, but with a game in hand.
The Brumbies are the only undefeated team, but coach McKellar was not happy with the way they squeezed past the Reds.
“If we had lost, we would have beaten ourselves,” he told reporters. “We’ve played some classics with the Reds, but that wasn’t one.”
The Brumbies only had 35 percent possession in the first-half and were fortunate to lead 10-7 at the break, courtesy of a sensational Tom Wright try and five points off Noah Lolesio’s boot.
They picked up the pace in the second half, but were forced into some desperate defence at the death as the Reds pressed hard for the win.
In Sydney, the Waratahs won back-to-back matches for the first time in 19 months to consign the Rebels to a fifth straight defeat.
They led 14-6 at half-time with tries by No.8 Will Harris and centre Lalakai Foketi.
Four penalties from Wallabies star Matt To’omua kept the Rebels in touch, but the Melbourne side again failed to capitalise on possession and territory, rarely threatening.
Despite another defeat, Rebels coach Kevin Foote said he saw some positives.
👀 The TOP 5 TRIES of Round 5 👀
— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) March 20, 2022
“I think, maybe again, we’re just not finishing off opportunities when we’re really starting to build pressure on the opposition,” he said.
“But I’m really positive from those results, if I look at those things and what went well for us, I can see ourselves playing well and the rugby we want to play.”
Drua lost their fourth game in five, but it was again a close call with Force’s Bayley Kuenzle nailing a penalty after the siren.
In contrast, Moana Pasifika were handed a masterclass by an under-strength Chiefs.
Despite missing a host of key players including All Blacks Sam Cane and Anton Lienert-Brown, they still emerged winners by nine tries to two as Moana’s defensive weaknesses were exposed.
© Agence France-Presse