Brumbies lead chasing pack as unbeaten Chiefs ease clear

rugby07 May 2023 07:02| © Reuters

Brumbies just held off the Melbourne Rebels 33-26 in the final Super Rugby Pacific match of the weekend on Sunday to stay at the front of the chasing pack behind the unbeaten Chiefs after 11 rounds of the championship.

The Chiefs made it 10 wins out of 10 for the season when they opened the round with a bonus point 52-28 victory over Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday and finished the weekend with a nine-point advantage over the Brumbies.

The Canberra-based outfit needed to be at their best in Melbourne to see off a vastly improved Rebels team, who were battering at their line in the final few minutes looking for a converted try to level up the scores.

Two tries in the first half from flyhalf Noah Lolesio, a couple after the break from their trademark rolling maul and a fifth from Rob Valetini gave the Brumbies just enough of a cushion to secure their eight win of the season.

The Brumbies remained two points clear of the third-placed Blues and three ahead of the reigning champion Crusaders.

The Crusaders welcomed Will Jordan back after a long spell on the sidelines with an ear problem and the fullback looked in fine touch in the 48-13 pummelling of the Western Force in Christchurch on Saturday.

The Hurricanes had led the group of New Zealand teams just behind the Brumbies at the start of the weekend but were stunned 27-24 by the Fijian Drua in sweltering Suva earlier on Saturday.

Former All Blacks winger Julian Savea scored two tries for the Hurricanes to match Israel Folau's career competition record of 60 but the visitors wilted under the pressure brought to bear by the Fijians.

The Blues almost fell victim to the other expansion team brought into the competition last year but a penalty try after the fulltime hooter had sounded gave them a 31-30 victory over the winless Moana Pasifika at Eden Park.

The New South Wales Waratahs put together successive wins for the first time this season with a 32-24 victory over Reds in Saturday's final match in Townsville.

Centre Lalakai Foketi broke a 17-17 deadlock with a brilliant team try early in the second half and the Waratahs held on to snap a four-game losing streak in a rivalry that goes back to 1882.

A fourth victory of the season moved the Waratahs into sixth place in the standings, three points clear of the Reds but 11 points behind the fifth-placed Hurricanes.

The Chiefs clearly remain the team to beat, however, after another brilliant display of counter-attacking rugby from their backline against the Highlanders.

Halfbacks Damian McKenzie and Brad Weber set up the best try of the night for prop George Dyer but there were also scores for fullback Shaun Stevenson, winger Emoni Narawa, returning centre Anton Lienert-Brown and two for centre Daniel Rona.

"Sometimes it's just having a crack," said Stevenson, who has played himself into All Blacks contention this season.

"I guess it's just playing with freedom and confidence and when you get the whole team playing well, it's easy to do your job."