The penultimate weekend of the 2016 Super Rugby regular season saw a number of one-sided clashes, with the Kiwi sides bullying their opponents from across the Tasman.
The four matches involving New Zealand and Australian sides saw the Kiwis win by an aggregate score of 203-63 on a harrowing weekend for Australian rugby.
Blues and Hurricanes topple Australian playoff chasers
Round 16 got underway on Friday night in Auckland, where a Blues team with no chance of reaching the playoffs trounced the Australian conference leading Brumbies, 40-15.
The result set the tone for the weekend ahead, with the gulf in class between Kiwi and Aussie sides proved by the fifth-best New Zealand outfit handing out a real thumping.
The Blues shot out of the blocks and led 28-7 at the end of the first quarter, despite having Jerome Kaino sent to the sin-bin in the 10th minute.
It was Kaino who crossed for the game’s first try, when he collected a cross-field kick from Ihaia West to canter over under the posts.
Blues captain James Parsons then doubled the lead, before the Brumbies got themselves back into the game with a penalty try accompanied by the Kaino yellow card for pulling down a maul close to his own line.
Despite being down to 14-men, the hosts kept their foot on the throttle and a great offloading move saw prop forward Sam Prattley reach over for a score, before Matt Duffie raced away for their fourth try after a scintillating break from Steven Luatua.
The visitors attempted to revert to type and their dominance at the scrum allowed them to build pressure close to the line, with Matt Toomua eventually crossing just before half-time.
In a repeat of the first-half, the Blues and Kaino in particular started the second stanza with aplomb, crossing the line two minutes after the break after shooting off the back of a driving maul close to the Brumbies line for his second try.
Stephen Larkham’s men looked a shadow of the side who were tournament favourites in the early weeks and conceded for a sixth time late on to Duffie, eventually going down 40 points to 15.
With the door wide open following the Brumbies loss the night before, the Waratahs hosted the Hurricanes in Sydney knowing that a win (or even just a losing bonus point) would move them top of the Australian conference. They managed neither, as the Hurricanes ran out 28-17 victors to confirm their own place in the end-of-season playoffs.
Two Beauden Barrett penalties had moved the Canes out to a 6-0 lead, before the in-form playmaker then crossed for the game’s first try after he collected Cory Jane’s chip behind the home defence.
Knowing what was at stake, the home side then scored 17 unanswered points to move into a six-point lead just after half-time. Taqele Naiyaravoro was the first to cross, after he smashed over from close range, with star-man Israel Folau then bashing his way through two defenders to score whilst the visitors were down to 14 with Willis Halaholo in the sin-bin.
With Halaholo still on the sidelines, the Hurricanes retook the lead after Jane cantered over in the corner after they had built a huge overlap on the right wing.
It was then the Tahs turn to go down a man, with Naiyaravoro given his second yellow in two games, and the Kiwi outfit took advantage with Julian Savea crossing in the left-hand corner for the final points of the contest.
Following the weekend’s fixtures, four Kiwi teams have wrapped-up playoff spots, meaning only one Australian side will reach the postseason as the race to top the conference heads to the final week.
Chiefs and Crusaders score half-centuries while crushing Australian rivals
In Christchurch on Saturday evening, the Crusaders put in one of the most dominant performances imaginable, downing the Rebels 85-26.
A Rebel side without forwards Sean McMahon, Luke Jones and Lopeti Timani were never at the races and found themselves 33-0 down after 20 minutes following tries from Sam Whitelock, Ryan Crotty, Scott Barrett, Alex Hodgman and Nemani Nadolo.
Johnny McNicholl then weaved his way through the defence to add the Crusaders sixth try, before the Rebels got on the board thanks to captain Nic Stirzaker. Crotty then added his second to take the score out to 43-7 at the break.
In a repeat of the first-half, the hosts scored three tries in the opening ten minutes after the interval, with Peter Samu following up Codie Taylor’s quick-fire brace.
A battered Rebel side did their best to make it interesting and scored three second-half tries through Reece Hodge, Culum Retallick and Sefanaia Naivalu, yet it was another depressing evening for the Melbourne-club who conceded 13 tries.
Llanelli-bound winger McNicholl scored two second-half tries to complete his hat-trick, whilst Matt Todd scored the try of the game, dummying past the defence before racing away from inside his own half.
The night before, the Chiefs put in an excellent performance of their own, to down the Reds 50-5 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The Chiefs scored eight tries, but it could have been more as they remained top of the New Zealand conference thanks to the big win.
Seta Tamanivalu and Atu Moli were first to cross for the visitors, before Chris Kuridrani gave the Reds fans their one moment of cheer after fighting off a couple of defenders to score.
A crazy ten-minute period then ended any hope the Reds had of forging an unlikely comeback, after both Nick Frisby and Jack Tuttle were sent to the sin-bin. A penalty try for Frisby’s infringement, followed by five-pointers to Tamanivalu and Sam Cane pushed the Chiefs out to a 33-5 lead at the break.
Liam Messam made an unexpected return to Super Rugby from the bench for the Chiefs, and they went on to score three unanswered tries after half-time to bring up their half-century, with Nathan Harris and Damian McKenzie (x2) touching down out wide.
Highlanders make it Kiwi full-house with Buenos Aires triumph
The Highlanders confirmed their place in the playoffs, after beating the Jaguares 34-8 in Argentina.
Jamie Joseph’s side got off to the perfect start, scoring inside the first two minutes of the match, when the ball was shipped wide to Ben Smith who raced through a gap in the defence to touch down.
An interception by Rob Thompson led to the Highlanders second try, before they added a third after some excellent offloading ended with recently-capped All Black Elliot Dixon scoring in the corner.
The home crowd were given something to cheer just before the break when Juan Martin Hernandez scored out wide, but all-in-all it was another disappointing for the Argentinian franchise who were outplayed by the visitors.
Lima Sopoaga added a pair of penalties, before Dixon scored his second of the match to confirm the win, and a spot in the end-of-season playoffs.
African Conference winners claim elementary bonus point wins
As expected, the Lions secured the bonus-point victory needed to remain top of the overall ladder in their 57-21 thumping of the lowly Kings.
They actually struggled in the first-half, leading just 17-7 at the break after tries from Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Andries Coetzee sandwiched an effort from James Hall for the visitors.
Then, with the Kings down to 13-men following yellow cards to Shane Gates and Edgar Marutulle, the Ellis Park faithful were treated to the Lions rugby they anticipated, with Faf de Klerk, Franco Mostert, Malcolm Marx, Courtnall Skosan, Sylvain Mahuza and van Rensburg each crossing for tries in a dominant second period.
The Stormers made it two wins on the bounce on Australian soil, after they beat a struggling Force side 22-3 in Perth.
With the teams locked at 3-3 five minutes before the break, a quick-fire double from Siya Kolisi and Kobus van Wyk gave the visitors a healthy lead in the game. Van Wyk then added a second try just before the hour mark in the only moment of note during a dour second-half in a damp Perth.
Sharks remain ahead of Bulls in race for wildcard spot
With the two African Conferences wrapped-up by the Lions and Stormers, it has left the Bulls and Sharks battling for the one wildcard spot availabale.
The Sharks remain in pole-position to grab that spot, after a strong second-half showing allowed them to see off the Cheetahs 26-10 in Durban.
After trailing 7-0 following a Raymond Rhule try, the Sharks hit back to lead at the break thanks to a try of their own from JP Pietersen, accompanied by five points from the boot of Garth April.
Fred Zeilinga then drew the sides level, before April slotted over a trio of second-half penalties to back-up Stefan Ungerer’s interception try as Gary Gold’s men secured a vital victory.
Prior to the Sharks win, the Bulls had put as much pressure as possible on the Durban-side, with a 50-3 stuffing of the Sunwolves at Loftus Versfeld.
Going up against a side with nothing to play for worked in the Bulls favour, as the home side racked up four tries in a dominant first-half. Great work from Jamba Ulengo set-up Lappies Labuschagne for the game’s opener, with Dries Swanopoel, Jannes Kirsten and Francois Brummer following him over for five-pointers before the break.
Adriaan Strauss crashed over in the 42nd minute, before Travis Ismaiel raced away for a brace in the final moments after the Sunwolves had held out for over 30 minutes.
Going into the final week, a Sharks victory at home to the Sunwolves on Friday evening will book their place in the playoffs, with the Bulls waiting in the wings for a Sharks slip-up ahead of their clash with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.