Defending Super Rugby champions Highlanders hang on to deny Brumbies a spot in the semi-finals
Waisake Naholo and Liam Squire score tries as Kiwi side survive tense finish to win 15-9 in Canberra in the first quarter-final
Defending champions Highlanders survived a tense finish to eliminate the ACT Brumbies 15-9 and qualify for the Super Rugby semi-finals in Canberra on Friday.
The New Zealanders defended grimly in the final stages as the Australian conference champions went after a converted try that would have given them victory on a wet wintry night in the national capital.
The Dunedin-based visitors scored two tries with fly-half Lima Sopoaga landing a conversion and a penalty to steer his team into next week’s semi-finals.
The Highlanders, who have played in South Africa, Argentina and Australia this month to keep their title bid alive, were the better side for the most part to win their first game in Canberra for 10 years.
Winger Waisake Naholo and number eight Liam Squire scored tries in either half with the Brumbies keeping within reach, but unable to get the clinching try in a desperate finish.
The Brumbies thought they had scored the clinching try by replacement Lausii Taliauli five minutes from time, but the video referee could not adjudicate on a clear grounding of the ball.
The Highlanders’ win continued a dominant Super Rugby season for New Zealand teams over their Australian opposition, winning 22 of their 26 encounters.
“We dug in over the last 15 minutes and showed good character,” said Highlanders captain Shane Christie.
“It was always going to be difficult coming over here but we’re stoked and we’re in the semi-finals now and we look forward to the week ahead.”
It was a despondent Brumbies camp, bowing out of the finals race and saying goodbye to three of their star Wallabies, skipper Stephen Moore, Matt Toomua and David Pocock, who will all be heading elsewhere next season.
“It’s difficult not to comment on some of those refereeing decisions,” Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said.
“For mine Lausii scored a try near the end and we had a dominant scrum all night and the ball has come out sideways in the final minutes and I cannot see how there is no penalty for that.
“It’s really devastating because it’s tough conditions tonight and we were behind on the scoreboard but we found a way back into the game and we did everything right to win it.”