The Brumbies sealed top spot in the Australian conference with a 35-24 win over a haphazard Waratahs team in Parramatta, Western Sydney, on Saturday.
A Curtis Rona try after the full-time hooter had sounded robbed the Brumbies of a bonus point, but the win means they can’t be overtaken in the conference race.
The win also means they have a real chance of claiming second place in the overall standings, should the Jaguares fall short in the last two rounds.
The Brumbies were never seriously threatened after piling on four unanswered first-half tries in a victory that left the Canberrans nine points clear of the Melbourne Rebels and 14 ahead of the Waratahs entering the final round.
While the third-placed Brumbies will look to push for an all-important top-two spot with victory over the Reds in the national capital next Saturday, the Waratahs will head to Invercargill for a dead-rubber game against the Highlanders.
With his side’s title hopes shot after a season dogged by the Israel Folau saga, Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson can now at least rest his Test stars as per a pre-season pact with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
Had the Tahs still been in finals contention next week, Gibson might well have been tempted to run the gauntlet.
As has become the norm in recent years, the Brumbies were too physical and clinical for the Waratahs, who yet again failed to back up after scoring an impressive win over the Rebels last week in Melbourne.
In a frustrating campaign for both the Waratahs and their fans alike, Gibson’s 2018 semifinalists managed to string together successive wins just once.
And they have notched only three wins from eight outing since Folau’s suspension and the subsequent sacking out Super Rugby’s all-time leading try-scorer for his controversial social media posts.
The Brumbies’ fourth successive derby win in Sydney also marked the end of an era for the Waratahs.
The London Irish-bound trio of Curtis Rona, Nick Phipps and Sekope Kepu have all played their last home games for NSW, while fellow Wallabies stars Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Bernard Foley are also off contract at the end of the season and weighing up their futures in Australia.
All but Rona featured in the Waratahs’ 2014 championship-winning team, leaving Gibson potentially facing a major overhaul before next year.
The Brumbies had the match – and conference bragging rights – all but wrapped up at halftime.
Four tries in 18 minutes – to Rory Arnold, Andy Muirhead, Irae Simone and Folau Fainga’a, all converted by skipper Christian Lealiifano – had the visitors up 28-3 at the break.
Replies from Phipps and Ashley-Cooper in the second half gave home fans a glimmer of hope before flanker Tom Cusack sealed victory with the Brumbies’ fifth try with five minutes remaining.
But the Waratahs denied their arch rivals a bonus point when Rona touched down after the fulltime siren.
Man of the match: Michael Hooper, as was to be expected, had an enormous workrate – making valuable metres with the ball in hand, his tackle count went into double figures and he even won some turnovers. Silatolu Latu brought some additional energy as a second-half replacement, although his disciplinary issues and poor hands still let him down. Adam Ashley-Cooper also performed better in the second half and scored a crucial try. Thomas Banks and Irae Simone were impressive in the first half. Rory Arnold and Folau Fainga’a were the Brumbies’ most productive forwards, while Thomas Cusack did a mountain of work on defence and scored the crucial try that made the game safe for the Brumbies. Our award goes to Brumbies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano, who continued his impressive form – making another statement about a possible World Cup spot with the Wallabies by outshining rival Bernard Foley.
For the Waratahs:
Tries: Phipps, Ashley-Cooper, Rona
Cons: Foley 3
For the Brumbies:
Tries: Arnold, Muirhead, Simone, Fainga’a, Cusack
Cons: Lealiifano 5
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Chris Talakai, 19 Jed Holloway, 20 Will Miller, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Tautalatasi Tasi, 23 Cameron Clark.
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper
Replacements: 16 Connal Mcinerney, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Lachlan Mccaffrey, 21 Jahrome Brown, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Tom Wright.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)