The Fijian Drua emerged winners in the first all-Pacific Islands clash over Moana Pasifika.
From the moment the Highlanders achieved a Super Rugby record margin against the Force, the New Zealanders continued to dominate the playoffs race with three sides in home playoffs territory.
Results from the weekend were:
Highlanders 61 Force 10
All eyes were on coach Tony Brown's decision to start Sam Gilbert at first five-eighths and from the outset it was clear he made a difference, hooker Andrew Makalio scoring after only three minutes. Gilbert then took the ball to the line to offload a pass to No8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, a towering influence in the game. He put flanker Billy Harmon en route to the goal-line but, when he was stopped, the resultant ruck saw Mikaele-Tu'u waiting on the blindside to score. Lock Jeremy Thrush got one back for the Force, but then home second five-eighths Thomas Umaga-Jensen showed his power again when bursting from a ruck before in-passing to Scott Gregory for the try. Mikaele-Tu'u then made light of the Force defence to run unchallenged from a goalmouth scrum to give the Highlanders 28 first-half points. The game was all over. There was time in the second half for Makalio to score another, his replacement Rhys Marshall to cross and replacement halfback Folau Fakatava to score twice and Harman once. And putting the seal on the effort was Gilbert converting all eight tries.
Highlanders 61 (Andrew Makalio 2, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u 2, Scott Gregory, Rhys Marshall, Folau Fakatava 2, Billy Harmon tries; Sam Gilbert 8 con) Force 10 (Jeremy Thrush, Andrew Ready tries). HT: 28-10
Brumbies 26 Crusaders 37
Undeterred by an interesting ball placement over the goal-line by Brumbies' second five-eighths Irae Simone for the first try of the game, the Crusaders held their composure and from a chargedown of first five-eighths Rod Iona's attempted clearance, it was hooker Codie Taylor who crossed to score. But Taylor was more likely to be talking about his grubber kick in open play to set up wing Sevu Reece for a try – his 40th, and the fastest to that mark by any player in Super Rugby. That was followed by first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga landing his second penalty goal to reach 1000 points in Super Rugby. Simone got a second, running an oblique angle, but halfback Bryn Hall kept the Crusaders' momentum going and although hooker Folau Fainga'a got the Brumbies within 11, good backing up by fullback Will Jordan shut the Brumbies out. A late intercept by wing Tom Wright for a try reduced the final margin.
Brumbies 26 (Irae Simone 2, Folau Fainga'a, Tom Wright tries; Nic White con, R Lonergan 2 con) Crusaders 37 (Codie Taylor, Sevu Reece, Bryn Hall, Will Jordan tries; Richie Mo'unga 4 con, 3 pen). HT: 5-23
Fijian Drua 34 Moana Pasifika 19
Fijian Drua No8 Te Ahiwara Cirikidaveta was perfectly placed in support to take an inside pass from second five-eighths Kalaveti Ravouvou to open the scoring in this Pacific classic with a fifth-minute try. Two minutes later an uncontrolled Moana Pasifika pass was picked up by wing Vinaya Haobosi and he turned on his after-burners to race 70m for the try. Moana flanker Solomone Funaki showed his own class off a maul 22m out to bump off a defender, move infield and then head the defence for a superb try. Chasing onto a midfield chip kick from first five-eighths Teti Tela, centre Apisalome Vota got the bounce to run in the first of his two tries to give the Drua a 24-7 lead. However, Moana used their lineout maul to get prop Abraham Pole across while in injury-time wing Timoci Tavatanawai had a try ruled out due to a forward pass. However, near the three-quarter mark there was no denying him when he fielded second five-eighths Danny Toala's cross-kick to get Moana back within five points. But, with 10 minutes left, Vota had the final say when scoring from a breakdown close to the line.
Fijian Drua 34 (Te Ahiwara Cirikidaveta, Vinaya Haobosi, Apisalome Vota 2 tries; Teti Tela 4 con, 2 pen) Moana Pasifika 19 (Solomone Funaki, Abraham Pole, Timoci Tavatanawai tries; Lincoln McClutchie con; William Havili con). HT: 24-12
Blues 53 Reds 26
Defence was again the basis of the Blues' 11th consecutive win. They beat 32 defenders to 18, and in their rampant mood they can't be allowed that sort of freedom. By comparison, the Blues made 162 tackles to 101 by the Reds. The visitors also had the advantage in breakdown possession 94-55 but could make no sustained impact. With second five-eighths Roger Tuivasa-Sheck creating early impact, as did lock James Tucker, they complemented their running games, with strong defensive displays of 15 and 17 tackles respectively. A dynamic third quarter shut the Reds out. Each try the Blues scored was prefaced by a string of penalty advantages that were not required. First five-eighths Beauden Barrett and fullback Stephen Perofeta, who finished the game on 99 points, were superb in combination while replacement Bryce Heem scored two tries when a hamstring strain forced Rieko Ioane from the field. Wing Caleb Clarke bagged two tries and replacement hooker Soane Vikena scored a brace off the back of the Blues' maul. Reds wing Suliasi Vunivalu showed his class on the wing in scoring a try while fullback Jock Campbell benefited for the first of his two tries from sweet timing of a pass from first five-eighths James O'Connor.
Blues 53 (Bryce Heem 2, Caleb Clarke 2, Beauden Barrett, Stephen Perofeta, Soane Vikena 2 tries; Perofeta 5 con, pen) Reds 26 (Suliasi Vunivalu, Ryan Smith, Jock Campbell 2 tries; James O'Connor 3 con). HT: 22-14
Waratahs 18 Hurricanes 22
Failing to secure more points when totally dominating the first quarter with 94 per cent of possession, and shutting the Hurricanes out in the second quarter, the Waratahs conceded a 15-point lead in the face of a determined second half from the visitors at Leichardt Oval. No8 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco scored the first try from a five-metre scrum and then wing Dylan Pietsch capped an outstanding break, and backhand offload, by centre Izaia Perese to extend the lead. Perese, however, later limped from the field with an MCL injury and the Waratahs could only add a penalty goal in the rest of the game. Storming into second half action, replacement prop Tevita Mafileo, standing off a ruck, scored in the second minute. After a Jordie Barrett penalty goal, it wasn't until the 60th minute that halfback Jamie Booth made a blindside break to link with second five-eighths Barrett, who stood in the tackle, to feed first five-eighths Aidan Morgan. He passed inside to No8 Ardie Savea. His long pass to centre Bailyn Sullivan, on the flank, resulted in a try that levelled the scores. Then, with five minutes remaining, a strong run down the left wing by Salesi Rayasi allowed the Hurricanes to pressure the line, and it was Savea who muscled his way over to finally gain the lead.
Waratahs 18 (Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, Dylan Pietsch tries; Tane Edmed con, pen; Ben Donaldson pen) Hurricanes 22 (Tevita Mafileo, Bailyn Sullivan, Ardie Savea tries; Jordie Barrett 2 con, pen). HT: 15-0
Rebels 30 Chiefs 33
Prop Ollie Norris' last-minute try brought the Chiefs back from the dead against the Rebels in Melbourne. The Chiefs scored tries to No8 Luke Jacobson and wing Chase Tiatia within five minutes of each other in the first half. Losing prop Pone Fa'amausili to the sin-bin didn't deter the home side. Firstly, Rebels first five-eighths Carter Gordon intercepted a pass from Chiefs first-five Josh Ioane to run 80 metres to score and leave the halftime score favouring the Chiefs 10-12 and seven minutes into the second half, a loose Ioane pass was kicked ahead by wing Andrew Kellaway who scored for a 17-12 lead. However, Ioane's break allowed hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho to score while wing Emoni Narawa stepped the Rebels defence to score for the Chiefs to claim a 26-17 lead. Fullback Reece Hodge stepped up for the Rebels and within 11 minutes kicked two penalty goals, scored a try and converted to give the Rebels a 30-26 lead with three minutes left and Jacobson in the sin-bin for the Chiefs. That left Norris to show his ability with ball in hand to beat three defenders to score.
Rebels 30 (Reece Hodge, Carter Gordon, Andrew Kellaway tries; Hodge 3 con, 3 pen) Chiefs 33 (Luke Jacobson, Chase Tiatia, Samisoni Taukei'aho, Emoni Narawa, Ollie Norris tries; Josh Ioane 4 con). HT: 10-12