Reds win at Melbourne Rebels
Queensland Reds kept their Super Rugby title defence very much alive with an ultimately comfortable 32-17 bonus-point victory at the Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
Teenager Chris F'Sautia, a late replacement for the sick Digby Ioane, scored the first try and his fellow winger Dom Shipperley, lock Adam Wallace-Harrison and replacement back Nick Frisby also crossed for the Super Rugby champions.
In their first match after the international window, Queensland tired in the second half as the many Wallabies in their ranks began to feel the lingering effects of the hard-fought series win over Wales.
The always game Rebels, hoping to give former Wallabies centre Stirling Mortlock a win in his final home match, hit back in the second half with tries from Kurtley Beale and Lachie Mitchell but never closed to within 10 points of the Reds.
To make matters worse, they lost flyhalf James O'Connor to a hamstring injury in his first match back after recovering from a liver injury which had kept him sidelined for a month.
"The game didn't go to plan, the big send off," Rebels captain Gareth Delve said in a pitchside interview.
"But we showed great character in the second half. In the first half we made too many mistakes and left ourselves with a mountain to climb."
Another Wallabies flyhalf, Quade Cooper, was replaced at halftime by the Reds after setting up Wallace-Harrison's try five minutes before the break.
It was a moment of magic from the least lauded of the playmakers on the field, however, which set up the best try of the night after 26 minutes.
Centre Mike Harris made the most of his pack winning a scrum against the head by chipping over the defensive line and regathering his own kick.
The Reds moved the ball quickly outside to F'Sautia, who looked like he might score a brace on his first start but he was forced to look for support and his pass back inside found Shipperley who crossed in the corner.
Trailing 27-3 at the break, the Rebels laid siege to the Queensland line in the second half and got their reward when fullback Beale snaked over the line in the 56th minute and Mitchell finished well nine minutes later.
The Reds refused to let the Rebels eat further into their lead, however, and went back down the pitch through 20 or more phases before a flat pass from peerless scrumhalf Will Genia put Frisby in to score in the corner six minutes from time.
"We dropped a little bit in that second half which is disappointing but we got that fourth try and that's very important for the competition," said skipper Genia, whose side now return home for matches against the Highlanders and Waratahs in their last two regular season fixtures.
Waikato Chiefs 27-21 Otago Highlanders
The Waikato Chiefs prevailed 27-21 in a fierce physical contest against the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin to secure a place in the Super Rugby play-offs and all but end their opponents' hopes of post-season play.
The competition leaders were clinical with turnover ball and ran in first half tries through winger Tim Nanai-Williams and fullback Robbie Robinson before holding off a desperate late charge from the home side.
The Highlanders were led manfully by All Blacks flanker Adam Thomson but paid the price for inaccuracy at key moments of the match and ultimately had to be satisfied with tries from replacement hooker Andrew Hore and a late effort from winger Hosea Gear.
The Highlanders were the only New Zealand team to have beaten the Chiefs this season but the visitors quickly made it clear they would not be blown away at the breakdown as they were back in the first week of the competition.
They first struck after three minutes after stealing the ball at a ruck deep inside their own half and quickly moved it to rampaging centre Sonny-Bill Williams and then out to Nanai-Williams, who reached over the line to touch down in the tackle.
Flyhalf Aaron Cruden added the extras before Chris Noakes got the home side on the scorebaord with the first of his three penalties five minutes later.
Cruden kicked the first of his five penalties after 11 minutes but it was not until just before halftime that the Chiefs put some daylight between themselves and the Highlanders.
Three minutes before the break, a Noakes kick was charged down in midfield and again the Chiefs wasted no time in getting the ball out wide, where Robinson was able to cross easily.
Cruden missed the conversion but added another penalty after the hooter had sounded and when he clipped over another just a minute after the restart, the Chiefs were 21-9 up.
Sometime boxer Williams was adjudged to have barged into a Highlander runner in the 44th minute, provoking a fist-swinging brawl that went on long after play had moved to the other side of the pitch.
The Highlanders kicked the ensuing penalty to touch and the Chiefs won the line-out but spilled the ball backwards allowing Hore to pick it up and score through a scrum of bodies in the 46th minute.
Two more penalties from Cruden put the Chiefs a comfortable-looking 27-14 up in the 68th minute but the Highlanders were not yet ready to call time on their playoff hopes yet.
With five minutes to go, a neat break by replacement back Mike Delany got the Highlanders close to the Chiefs' line and Gear burrowed over for a converted try to give the home side hope that they might nick the win with another. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Patrick Johnston)