WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Super Rugby Pacific semifinals are set with the ACT Brumbies advancing after a 35-25 comeback win over the Wellington-based Hurricanes on Saturday.
Earlier, the top-ranked Blues shook off a sluggish start to beat the Dunedin-based Highlanders 35-6 and ensure a home semifinal next Saturday against the Brumbies at Auckland's Eden Park.
In the other semifinal, the Crusaders, who beat the Queensland Reds 37-15 on Friday, will take on the Hamilton-based Chiefs at Christchurch. The Chiefs beat the New South Wales Waratahs 39-15 earlier Saturday.
At Canberra, the Hurricanes led 22-15 at halftime after two tries and some lethal penalty kicking from Jordie Barrett, but a rare miss from the All Blacks star turned the contest around early in the second half.
Noah Lolesio trimmed the margin to four points with a penalty on the hour-mark and the Brumbies took the lead soon after, a barging run from Nick Frost ending with fullback Tom Banks slicing through the line and scoring.
Brumbies winger Tom Wright put the match out of reach in the 74th minute, cutting through off the back of another powerful maul, with Lolesio’s sideline conversion extending the lead to the final margin.
At Auckland, the Blues were barely able to get out of their own half in the first 20 minutes and took 31 minutes to score the first try.
The Highlanders defended doggedly but lacked attacking finesse, taking only one penalty from their early territorial advantage. They were reduced to 14 men in the 21st minute when hooker Andrew Makalio was sent off for a dangerous shoulder charge on Blues lock Tom Robinson.
The Highlanders extended their lead soon after Makalio's departure with a second penalty to flyhalf Marty Banks. But the Blues, whose attack had stuttered early, began to find space and stretch the defense.
Akira Ioane dashed over for their first try, then flyhalf Beauden Barrett scored tries on either side of halftime. For his first he fended off prop Ethan de Groot and sprinted 30 meters under the posts and for his second he took Rieko Ioane's final pass after a midfield break by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
“We took a bit of time to find our groove but that's cool, we know around finals footy everyone can go into their shell,” said Beauden Barrett, who stood in as Blues captain. “But it's great that we finally expressed ourselves and got used to playing our game again.”
Scrumhalf Brad Weber scored a try in each half to help the Chiefs to their win over the Waratahs. Weber scored a magnificent opening try in the sixth minute to begin a dominant performance by the Chiefs, who led 27-10 at halftime.
He completed his double in the 64th minute, reviving the Chiefs who were in the middle of a scoring lull. Backrower Luke Jacobson and center Alex Nankivell also scored in the first half and No. 8 Pita-Gus Sowakula added to Weber’s second try to complete a five tries to two win.
“What an awesome challenge, playing the defending champions at home,” Weber said. “We’ve beaten them once down there this season, so let’s make it two. It’s incredibly satisfying to win a home quarterfinal. “
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