They have a six-point cushion over the Crusaders as they return to Auckland before heading back to Sydney at the weekend to play the Waratahs who, after their 32-20 win over the Highlanders on Sunday, supplanted the Reds in sixth place.
If the playoffs started next weekend the draw would be: Blues v Highlanders, Crusaders v Reds, Brumbies v Waratahs and Chiefs v Hurricanes.
Crusaders 61 Fijian Drua 3
Demonstrating the truth of the old rugby adage that 'the ball will always beat the man', the Crusaders flung the ball all over Orangetheory Stadium, utilising passing variations to run in nine tries, eight of them converted by first five-eighths Fergus Burke against the hapless Drua. Flanker Tom Christie scored twice, both times running down the left wing, while right wing Sevu Reece touched down twice against his countrymen. As satisfying as another win was for the Crusaders, they had cause for greater pleasure from more less experienced players exposed to this level of play. Missing 31 tackles did not help the Drua nor did conceding 12 penalties to the Crusaders' six, while they also gave up 10 turnovers all of which fuelled the Crusaders' fires.
Crusaders 61 (Leicester Fainga'anuku, Tom Christie 2, Sam Whitelock, Sevu Reece 2, Fergus Burke, George Bridge, Braydon Ennor tries; Burke 8 con) Fijian Drua 3 (Tui Tela pen). HT: 28-3
Reds 34 Moana Pasifika 22
Moana Pasifika ran more metres (587-434), made more carries (140-98) and beat more defenders (30-19) and forced the Reds to make 173 tackles to 114, but it was that defence that finally made the difference for the home team in Brisbane. Scoring within moments of the start, Moana Pasifika had flanker Solomone Funaki to thank, but the Reds responded immediately with fullback Jock Campbell and flanker Fraser McReight scoring within three minutes. A yellow card for Moana No8 Henry Stowers resulted in the Reds adding another, to prop Harry Hoopert before Campbell picked up a second when following through a grubber kick from first five-eighths James O'Connor on the halftime break. Flanker Sione Tu'ipolotu scored early in the second half to close the margin but then No8 Harry Wilson pulled off an intercept to kill off any hope of a late steal by the visitors. They did deny the home side a bonus point when a try on fulltime to halfback Tate McDermott was ruled out due to a forward pass earlier in the movement.
Reds 34 (Jock Campbell 2, Fraser McReight, Harry Hoopert, Harry Wilson tries; James O'Connor 2 con, pen; Lawson Creighton con) Moana Pasifika 22 (Solomone Funaki, Sione Tu'ipolotu, Henry Stowers tries; Christian Leali'ifano 2 con, pen. HT: 24-10
Chiefs 54 Force 21
No respite was offered the Force at Hamilton when the Chiefs posted eight tries to keep their home playoffs bid alive while the visitors suffered a third humiliation at the hands of New Zealand teams' hands – 15-53 by the Crusaders, 10-61 by the Highlanders and 21-54 by the Chiefs. But after a week of losses of players to Covid, the Chiefs suffered a potentially worse blow when skipper, and flanker, Sam Cane suffered a bad knee injury in a tackle. Second five-eighths Quinn Tupaea showcased his strength, drive and fend with a hat-trick of tries. First five-eighths Bryn Gatland split the Force defence with an outstanding break early in the second half ,and after contributions from Tupaea and lock Tupou Vaa'i, it was fullback Kaleb Trask who got the reward. To their credit, the Force didn't stop trying, and former Chiefs wing Toni Pulu and former Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush, each crossed for Force tries but the final word came from Chiefs' hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho who finished with two tries.
Chiefs 54 (Quinn Tupaea 3, Aidan Ross, Kaleb Trask, Tupou Vaa'i, Samisoni Taukei'aho 2 tries; Trask con; Bryn Gatland 6 con) Force (Toni Pulu, Jeremy Thrush, Michael McDonald tries; Ian Prior con; Jack McIntyre con; McDonald con). HT: 21-7
Hurricanes 45 Rebels 22
Running rugby is in the Hurricanes' DNA and that proved the case against the Rebels, who lost one of their key players, Reese Hodge early on. Carrying for 947 metres, the Hurricanes beat 38 defenders, made 206 passes while picking up 17 turnovers and dominated ruck wins 100-66. But it wasn't all bad news for the Rebels, Hodge's replacement Lukas Ripley dined out to score a hat-trick of tries in a fine display. What made the Hurricanes effort all the more impressive was that after losing players to the 'flu, they were able to bring in substitutes who contributed superbly to the effort. Constant movement ensured tries were spread across the side. First five-eighths Aidan Morgan had reward for an impressive tactical game while centre Billy Proctor and wing Julian Savea relished the opportunities to run hard, both scoring tries.
Hurricanes 45 (Julian Savea, Billy Proctor, Blake Gibson, James Blackwell, Siua Maile, Jordie Barrett, Aidan Morgan tries; Barrett 5 con) Rebels 22 (Lukas Ripley 3 tries; Matt To'omua 2 con, pen). HT: 26-8
Brumbies 19 Blues 21
Given their possession and territorial dominance, 596 metres carried to 279 and 37 defenders beaten to seven, and only having to make 102 tackles compared to 213 by the Brumbies, the Blues made hard work of the win. Four times they got the ball over the Brumbies' line in the first half only to have the ball held up by desperate home defence. The Brumbies played a scrambling game aimed at upsetting the flow of ball to the Blues, but it came at a cost, conceding 16 penalties to five and two yellow cards. For all their claims of not getting 'the rub of the green', it was the ability of the Blues to keep their heads that triumphed, never more graphically demonstrated than in the last 90 seconds of the game, when they finally found a way to apply their basic game. The ideal would have been to finish with a try, but the dropped goal landed by first five-eighths Beauden Barrett, under an advantage, was sufficient to come away from Canberra with the win. Wing Mark Telea, second five-eighths Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and No8 Hoskins Sotutu produced big games.
Brumbies 19 (Pete Samu, Folau Fainga'a, Billy Pollard tries; Noah Lolesio 2 con) Blues 21 (Beauden Barrett, Karl Tu'inukuafe tries; Stephen Perofeta con, 2 pen; Barrett dropped goal). HT: 7-8
Highlanders 20 Waratahs 32
Signalling the improvement the Waratahs have managed in 2022, their win over the Highlanders was the first in Dunedin since 2008, and it was their first win on New Zealand soil since 2015. With the score locked at 7-7, the Highlanders lost Sam Gilbert for a tackle beyond the horizontal on Waratahs flanker Michael Hooper. The visitors pounced and had wing Mark Nawaqanitawase on the end of a long pass from first five-eighths Tane Edmed to score, and then Hooper had the last laugh scoring just before halftime for a 19-7 lead. There was plenty of movement in the game, both sides running more than 800 metres, but the home side had to make 163 tackles to 118 while they missed 32 and conceded 11 turnovers. With 14 men, those statistics demonstrate how hard it was for them to compete and while there was a late try for the Highlanders they were well out of it by that stage, and face a tough wait to ensure they qualify in the last game of the regular season next week against the Rebels.
Highlanders 20 (Josh Dickson, Scott Gregory, Liam Coombes-Fabling tries; Sam Gilbert con; Marty Banks pen) Waratahs 32 (Will Harris, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Michael Hooper, Tane Edmed tries; Edmed 3 con, 2 pen). HT: 7-19