Super Rugby’s playoff sides have been locked in with the top six decided after the penultimate round, but the duel for the Australian conference between the NSW Waratahs and the Brumbies will go down to the wire.
The playoff teams are runaway competition leaders the Hurricanes, fellow Kiwi sides the Chiefs and Highlanders, the Waratahs, Brumbies and the Stormers, who are the only South African team.
Michael Cheika’s Waratahs scored a nine-tries-to-five 58-33 bonus-point win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Sunday (AEST) to reclaim the Australian conference lead over the Canberra-based Brumbies as they chase a week off and prized home semi-final.
Star fullback Israel Folau scored three tries for the Waratahs who are locked on 47 points with the Brumbies but lead the conference by virtue of having more wins this season.
It sets up a thrilling last round, with the Brumbies having the chance to heap pressure on the Waratahs with a bonus-point win over the Crusaders at home on Saturday afternoon before NSW face Queensland later that evening in Sydney.
“We’ve always had a lot of history with the Reds,” said Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis whose side are second overall on the ladder.
“They’re playing some good rugby at the back end of the season, so we need to recover well and get back to Australia and prepare for that game.”
The Stormers snatched their third South African conference in five years with a 19-all draw against the Lions, while the Chiefs defeated Queensland 24-3 in Will Genia and James Horwill’s final game at Suncorp before continuing their careers overseas.
The Waratahs’ victory over the Cheetahs meant NSW would finish no lower than sixth and also knocked the Crusaders out of playoff contention.
On Friday, the Hurricanes eased past the Highlanders 56-20 before the Brumbies defeated the Western Force 33-20.
Star flanker David Pocock scored his second-hat-trick of tries this season in the victory to set up a big game for the Brumbies next week.
“If you finish third, there’s a fair bit of travel,” said Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham.
“We really need a good performance next week to give ourselves the best chance of getting in the top two.
“We’ve known from the last couple of years you can’t rest here and you can’t just get to the finals and say that’s a good season, we really need a top two finish.
“Next week is going to be a massive game for us.”
Earlier on Saturday, the Crusaders beat the Blues 34-11, and Melbourne ended South African visitors the Bulls’ playoff hopes with a 21-20 win in Victoria.