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Super Rugby Review: Round 18

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Saturday, June 15, 2019    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Their 49-12 win over the Waratahs set the trend for the final round of the regular season and was backed up by the Chiefs in their 59-8 win over the Rebels.

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In the weekend's quarterfinals, the Crusaders will host the Highlanders, the Jaguares will host the Chiefs, the Brumbies will host the Sharks and the Hurricanes will host the Bulls.

New Zealand Conference
Facing a Waratahs side depleted of several of its internationals the Highlanders, still without their own talisman fullback Ben Smith, turned it on in an accomplished display in slippery conditions in Invercargill to achieve their win. Scoring seven tries to two they effectively had the game sealed by halftime when they led 42-7. Encouraging also was the form of flanker Liam Squire who had been out for all but the last two weeks. He gets another chance to show his wares when they line up against the Crusaders in their quarterfinal.

If the Rebels wanted to put their Crusaders loss behind them, the Chiefs were in no mood to play along. They unleashed their very best form in a way no team should discount and which makes them dangerous prospects in one-off games in the playoffs. Flanker Sam Cane had an outstanding game and showed what might have been possible if he had been available for more of the season while the full squad contributed to an outstanding performance.

Nothing beats experienced firepower and that's what the Hurricanes called on in the second half to beat the Blues by scoring 24 unanswered points at Westpac Stadium in Wellington en route to a 29-24 win. The Blues showed just what they were capable of when getting out to a 24-5 halftime lead, but the frustrations of their season were evident in the second half when they were unable to regain their initiative and turn pressure back on a home side that showed the key to winning that has eluded the northerners again.



Australian Conference
The Jaguares set themselves up for their home quarterfinal against the Chiefs with a 52-10 win over the Sunwolves, scoring eight tries to two. Strong defence was needed, especially during the first half, to contain a lively Sunwolves side. That will be important next week when the Chiefs are likely to give them a much more lively workout.

The Waratahs had no answers to the domination the Highlanders achieved in Invercargill. It was a lesson for many of the lesser lights in the Waratahs side about what is required to succeed at Super level. However, there were some impressive signs with first five-eighths Mack Mason having a chance to demonstrate his potential. They did enjoy a better second half but by then the damage had been done.

The Rebels were left to rue missed opportunities earlier in the season when on the receiving end of the Chiefs' onslaught in Melbourne on Friday. It was the second year that the Rebels, who had been trendsetters in their Conference for two-thirds of the campaign, missed out on a playoffs goal at the last gasp. Coming off the back of their thrashing by the Crusaders last weekend it was a tough way to finish the year.

The Brumbies had useful preparation for the playoffs when pushed hard by the Reds at Canberra on Saturday. But for a penalty try awarded against them just before halftime, the Reds might have been even closer at the end than the 13 points in their 27-40 loss. The penalty try gave the home team a 19-10 lead at the break while dangerous loose forward Scott Higginbotham was targeted as the offender in dropping a maul and he was out for 10 minutes in which time the Brumbies scored twice.



South Africa Conference
It was a classic derby game in South Africa before the Sharks sneaked home with a 12-9 win over the Stormers to claim their playoffs spot. It was an attritional contest with few risks taken as both sought to keep mistakes to a minimum. The Sharks had plenty of ball but were unable to find pathways through the Stormers defence. When their first try came it was the result of an intercept by Rhyno Smith. However, the Stormers entered the last moments 9-5 up only for the Sharks to unleash 15 phases and in the 80th minute Lukhanyo Am crossed for the winning try.

The Bulls, just back from their Australasian tour, earned themselves a trip back to Wellington when beating the Lions 48-27 in Pretoria. They will play the Hurricanes after completing a disappointing year for the three-time finalists the Lions. It proved a never-say-die type of game as both sides threw the ball around with little in the way of outstanding defence. That was seen from a scrumless first half which managed to produce 50 points. Up 31-19 at halftime, the Bulls saw the Lions get up to 27 while they had a player in the sin bit. But restored to 15, the Bulls pulled away for the win.