A second-string Auckland Blues edged NSW Waratahs with a last-gasp drop goal to extend their win streak to 13 as Moana Pasifika shocked the ACT Brumbies in the final round of the regular Super Rugby Pacific season.
The dominant Blues lost their season opener, but have since rattled off 13 straight victories — a franchise record — to seal top spot in the 12-team table.
Assured of a home quarter-final, coach Leon MacDonald rested his top players, including superstar Beauden Barrett, from their finale against the Waratahs in Sydney, but the Blues still managed to win 20-17.
Two tries in six minutes from winger Mark Nawaqanitawase midway through the second half earned the Waratahs a 14-3 lead.
Replies from Cameron Suafoa and Luke Romano put the Blues back in front before a 78th-minute penalty from Tane Edmed levelled the score, setting up fullback Zarn Sullivan to be the hero, slotting a drop-goal after the final siren.
The top four teams at the end of the 15-round season earn a home playoff with the Blues to face the eighth-placed side, either Western Force or Otago Highlanders.
— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) May 28, 2022
The Highlanders take on Melbourne Rebels on Sunday and need at least a point to secure eighth spot after Force unexpectedly overcame the Wellington Hurricanes 27-22 in Perth to thurst themselves in contention.
The Waratahs finished sixth and must travel to New Zealand next weekend for a clash against the Waikato Chiefs, who ended their campaign with a 35-34 thriller against Fijian Drua.
The last match of the Drua’s inaugural season was played in front of a packed house at Churchill Park in Lautoka, Fiji’s second city, and they nearly pulled off a big upset.
The Chiefs led 35-13 with 14 minutes left and looked to be cruising, but Drua rallied to score three tries in the last 11 minutes and send it to the wire.
“We just feel a sense of relief more than anything,” Chiefs captain Brad Weber told reporters.
“Man, hats off to the Drua. That last 10 or 15 minutes they were just unbelievable. I haven’t seen tries scored like that in my whole career. It just feels incredibly lucky to be able to win.”
The win allowed the Chiefs to leapfrog Dan McKellar’s Brumbies into third place after the Canberra outfit were stunned by bottom-placed Moana Pasifika 32-22.
It was only Pasifika’s second win from 14 and the first against Australian opposition, built on the back of elementary errors and ill-discipline from the Brumbies, who will now host the Wellington Hurricanes in the last eight.
“It’s pretty disappointing from our end. We were probably out-played, probably out-enthused,” said Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa after their third straight loss.
“We just need to regroup, stay connected and make sure we learn.”
The mighty Canterbury Crusaders closed out their regular season by beating the Queensland Reds 28-15 in Christchurch to be second in the table.
The Reds were sixth, meaning the two teams will meet again next week in Christchurch for a place in the semi-finals.
The odds are heavily stacked against the Australian side who have lost all five games against New Zealand opposition this season and are without injured playmaker James O’Connor.
“Not too many teams get two cracks at the Crusaders in a row and we’ll take the positives out of that game because we’ve got to,” said Reds skipper Tate McDermott.
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