SYDNEY (Reuters) – The ACT Brumbies hit the New South Wales Waratahs with a four-try blitz in 18 first-half minutes on their way to a 35-24 victory on Saturday that secured them the Super Rugby Australian conference title.
The twice Super Rugby champions are now assured of a home quarter-final in two weeks’ time, while the Waratahs could still take a mathematical chance of making the playoffs into their final regular-season clash against the Otago Highlanders.
Lock Rory Arnold, winger Andy Muirhead, centre Irae Simone and hooker Folau Fainga’a all crossed in quick succession from the 15th minute and flyhalf Christian Lealiifano converted all four tries to give the visitors a 28-3 halftime lead.
Scrumhalf Nick Phipps, evergreen centre Adam Ashley-Cooper and winger Curtis Rona crossed in the second half for the Waratahs but the hosts had too steep a hill to climb to get back into the contest after leaking so many points before the break.
Openside flanker Tom Cusack finally got the visitors on the scoreboard five minutes from time to seal a fifth straight win for the Brumbies as they head home to Canberra for their final regular-season fixture against the Queensland Reds.
“Very pleased to get the result and top of the conference is nice,” said Brumbies skipper Lealiifano.
“Probably a bit disappointed with the second half but very pleased, yeah.”
The Brumbies have taken some criticism for their stodgy attack this year but were firing on all cylinders as they took early control of a typically hard-fought Australian derby at the new Western Sydney Stadium.
Arnold reached over the line for their first try after an attacking scrum in the 15th minute and Muirhead wriggled through three tacklers to add the second four minutes later.
Another four minutes on and Simone was cantering over the chalk dust after being set free by Wallabies centre Tevita Kuridrani before Fainga’a secured yet another try off the back off the clinical Brumbies rolling maul, his 11th of the season.
Loose forwards Lachlan Swinton and Jed Holloway both got the ball over the line for the Waratahs only to knock-on, summing up a season that never really got going for the 2014 champions.
“The Brumbies played a really dominant game in the first half,” said Waratahs captain Michael Hooper.
“We went out there full of intent and wanting to get the job done but the Brumbies were just too strong.”
(Editing by Clare Fallon)