WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Auckland-based Blues matched a club-record streak of 12 wins and clinched first place on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder Saturday when a dropped goal after the siren gave them a 21-19 win over the ACT Brumbies.
With a six point lead and only one week remaining in the regular season the Blues can’t be toppled from first place whatever the outcome of their final match against the New South Wales Waratahs.
The eight teams which will contest the playoffs mostly have been found, though the Dunedin-based Highlanders still can be dislodged from eighth place after a 32-20 loss on Sunday to the Waratahs. The Highlanders may need a win over the Melbourne Rebels next weekend to seal a quarterfinal place.
The top eight teams in the 12-team tournament progress to the quarterfinals. The top four teams have home advantage in the first round of the playoffs and the top two teams will play at home as long as they stay in contention.
The Christchurch-based Crusaders began the 14th of 15 regular season rounds jointly second with the Brumbies and moved four points clear in second place after a 61-3 win over the Fijian Drua. They finish against the Queensland Reds next week while the Brumbies, now third, face Moana Pasifika.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs stayed in fourth place, in line for a home quarterfinal, with a 54-21 win over the Western Force. They lead the fifth-placed Hurricanes only by three points but are favored to win against the Fijian Drua in Suva next week.
The Waratahs win lifted them above the Reds into sixth place but both have tough finishes against the Blues and Crusaders respectively.
The Blues run of 12 wins echoes the streak of their 1997 predecessors who won the Super Rugby title for the second time. The tournament was established in 1996.
They have shown the ability to win big this season, scoring 159 points in their last three home matches, and to win tough as they did — by four points — against the Crusaders in round nine.
In Saturday’s tight contest against the Brumbies the teams were never separated by more than seven points. The Blues went behind 19-18 to a Billy Pollard try with only 90 seconds remaining before Beauden Barrett kicked the winning dropped goal after the fulltime siren.
“That was almost test match intensity with the young packs and see-saw nature of the game,” Barrett said. “When you come to Canberra you’re up for a hell of a fight and we certainly got that.”
The Brumbies now have taken the Blues and Crusaders close in successive matches, gaining confidence as the playoffs approach. They were under pressure for most of the second half on Saturday but held on through determined goal line defense. The Brumbies gave up 12 penalties and lost two players to yellow cards but still were unbending in their defensive effort.
“We showed so much heart tonight. Our backs were against the wall through the whole game,” captain Allan Alaalatoa said. “We defended our hearts out and I just don’t feel we were getting the rub of the green. But we still managed to be up in the 79th minute.”
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