It capped one of the more engaging weekends of the competition. The Blues, who had another dropped goal in the last minute to thank for their 20-17 win over the Waratahs, broke their franchise record for most consecutive wins. It was their 13th, one better than the 1997 Super Rugby winning team.
The Force beat the Hurricanes 27-22 to keep the competition alive. It was their first win over the Hurricanes in 11 games.
The Brumbies, who lost 22-32 to Moana Pasifika at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland, suffered their third consecutive loss to drop from second to fourth on the points table.
The DHL Super Rugby Pacific Quarterfinals are as followed:
Friday 3 June - Crusaders (2) v Reds (7) Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch 7.05pm
Saturday 4 June - Chiefs (3) v Waratahs (6) FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton 4.35pm
Saturday 4 June - Blues (1) v Highlanders (8) Eden Park, Auckland 7.05pm
Saturday 4 June - Brumbies (4) v Hurricanes (5) GIO Stadium, Canberra 9.45pm (NZT)
Scores from Round 15 were:
Moana Pasifika 28 Force 48
The Force put their lineout to use to score the opening try but the home response came from wing Tima Fainga'anuku's powerful run from the base of a ruck for a fine solo try. He repeated the dose in more orthodox fashion off a passing movement to score in the corner. Blindside alley provided the path for the Force's next try through fullback Jake McIntyre. The Force got their noses in front on the halftime hooter with centre Byron Ralston stretching out in the tackle to score. Wing Richard Kahui's scorching midfield break provided a chance which McIntyre took for his second try. Prop Ezekiel Lindenmuth drove through low to get one back for Moana, but tries to No 8 Jackson Pugh, and replacement back Kyle Godwin, off a break by wing Manasa Mataele, ensured a bonus point win for the visitors who retained a chance to challenge for a playoffs berth.
Moana Pasifika 28 (Tima Fainga'anuku 2, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Tau Koloamatangi tries; Lincoln McClutchie 4 con) Force 48 (Andrew Ready, Jake McIntyre 2, Byron Ralston, Toni Pulu, Jackson Pugh, Kyle Godwin tries; Ian Prior 4 con, pen; Michael McDonald con). HT: 14-19
Crusaders 28 Reds 15
Resolute defence again paid off for the Crusaders in the face of Reds' attacks. They needed to make 185 tackles to 146 for the Reds, but the Reds missed 31 tackles to 24 and, with four tries to two, that kept the Reds out of the game. Crusaders first five-eighths Fergus Burke's star continued to shine for the Crusaders, scoring the opening try when making an outside break to be followed soon after by fullback Will Jordan who scored off an inside pass from centre Braydon Ennor. Hooker Brodie McAlister set up a 21-3 halftime lead off a lineout maul. Blindside flanker Pablo Matera's lifting tackle saw him sin-binned and Reds replacement hooker Richie Asiata drove over from the goal-line ruck. Flanker Tom Christie's try put any comeback hopes out of reach for the Reds with 14 minutes remaining. But the Reds did have the final say when No8 Harry Wilson got over on the blindside flank for the try.
Crusaders 28 (Fergus Burke, Will Jordan, Brodie McAlister, Tom Christie tries; Burke 4 con) Reds 15 (Richie Asiata, Harry Wilson tries; Lawson Creighton con, pen). HT: 21-3
Fijian Drua 34 Chiefs 35
This was a game the Drua will long believe they should have won. They carried 605 metres to 270, beat 32 defenders to 14 and only had to make 86 tackles to 124. But that Chiefs' defence earlier in the game proved the difference. Prop Angus Ta'avao ran like a midfield back to step his way to the opening try then first five-eighths Bryn Gatland found the hole on the goal-line to score the second. But, off an uncontrolled Chiefs kick in defence, centre Apisalome Vota pounced to pick up the ball and score. Halfback Brad Weber's long left-hand pass to right wing Emoni Narawa found its target to give the Chiefs a 21-7 halftime lead. A restart botch-up by the Drua gifted the Chiefs a second try for Narawa and it seemed that would be enough. But Fiji had other ideas. Second five-eighths Kalaveti Ravouvou's second half try should feature long as an advertisement of what Fijian players can do to sides. The move was started from their goal-line before wing Vinaya Nabosi climbed out of a tackle attempt, beat three other players and then fed Ravouvou on halfway. Two more defenders were disposed of before he ran in unimpeded for a superb try. Vota kept spirits soaring with a second try. A follow-up by prop Timoci Sauvoli was nearly as good as Ravouvou's effort to get the Drua within one point.
Drua 34 (Apisalome Vota 2, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Timoci Sauvoli tries; T Tela 4 con, 2 pen) Chiefs 35 (Angus Ta'avao, Bryn Gatland, Emoni Narawa 2 tries; Penalty try; Gatland 4 con). HT: 7-21
Moana Pasifika 32 Brumbies 22
It was an even match from a statistical viewpoint, Moana edging with 28 defenders beaten to 20, eight offloads to four and 95 rucks won to 72 but even the loss of skipper Sekope Kepu, for a high tackle after 10 minutes, resulting in a lineout drive for Connal McInerney could not deny the home team. They scored twice in six minutes, the first to fullback William Havili and then from a flying maul of their own for prop Joe 'Apikotoa to cross. Another maul was collapsed and referee Mike Fraser awarded a penalty try that saw Moana take a 19-7 lead to the break. A dropped goal to first five-eighths Noah Lolesio pulled three points back before hooker Lachlan Lonergan went over from another maul. However, Moana used the bench, and the blindside, for wing Solomone Kata to pick up a low ball and then feed inside for replacement forward Lotu Inisi's try to end the Brumbies hopes. Flanker Pete Samu scored a late consolation try but Moana ended deserving winners.
Moana Pasifika 32 (William Havili, Joe 'Apikotoa, Lotu Inisi tries; Penalty try; Christian Leali'ifano 2 con, 2 pen) Brumbies 22 (Connal McInerney, Lachlan Lonergan, Pete Samu tries; Noah Lolesio 2 con, dropped goal). HT: 19-7
Waratahs 17 Blues 20
Keeping his head while all around him, especially the Waratahs, lost theirs was acting first five-eighths' Zarn Sullivan's achievement with a last-minute dropped goal to secure a win for an inexperienced Blues unit that survived to embarrass their hosts at Leichardt Oval. Selecting 14 new starters from the team that beat the Brumbies a week earlier, coach Leon MacDonald was vindicated by a side that defied some unbelievable odds. The Blues forwards spent nine minutes reduced to six players, as flankers Adrian Choat and Akira Ioane were sin-binned, yet still won scrums. The Waratahs took a pounding up front throughout and in the last 14 minutes the Blues came back from 3-14 down to score tries through replacement loose forward Cameron Saufoa and lock and captain Luke Romano. The Waratahs beat 16 defenders to 8, made four clean breaks to two, won 10 mauls to five, stole four Blues lineouts and carried for 397 metres compared to 282. But, in the rucks won, the Blues dominated 91-68 and when it came to the crunch that was what counted.
Waratahs 17 (Marc Nawaqanitawase 2 tries; Tane Edmed 2 con, pen) Blues 20 (C Suafoa, Luke Romano tries; Jock McKenzie pen; Zarn Sullivan 2 con, dropped goal). HT: 0-3
Force 27 Hurricanes 22
The Hurricanes made most of the play carrying 552m to 327, beating 27 defenders to 11, having the Force make 188 tackles to 104 and winning 104 rucks to 72 but, significantly, they conceded 14 penalties to eight. They also scored the first three tries, two of them to fullback Josh Moorby, the first a solo effort when he made something from nothing, and the second supporting first five-eighths Aidan Morgan who made an outside break before passing inside to Moorby. The third was a lovely running try that saw wing Salesi Rayasi feed from a tackle outside to No8 Brayden Iose who sprinted 40m to score. Up 17-6, the Hurricanes conceded a try to prop Santiago Medrano just before the break. Then, with Rayasi in the sin-bin, the Force used their lineout maul to get hooker Andrew Ready over for the try to claim the lead. Rayasi returned to relish a long pass to his flank from Moorby to score to get back in front, but five minutes from the end they ran out of enough defenders to deny centre Byron Ralston the match-winning try.
Force 27 (Santiago Medrano, Andrew Ready, Byron Ralston tries; Ian Prior 2 con, 2 pen; Michael McDonald con) Hurricanes 22 (Josh Moorby 2, Brayden Iose, Salesi Rayasi tries; Aidan Morgan con). HT: 13-17
Rebels 31 Highlanders 30
Turning around a 14-18 halftime deficit by scoring two tries to lead 26-18, the Rebels had Perth hearts in their mouths. But then the Highlanders, courtesy of the injection of substitute halfback Folau Fakatava, got back in the hunt when firstly Fakatava scored only to be followed five minutes later by wing Fetuli Paea to reclaim the lead 30-26. But the Rebels took their chance and it was substitute Young Tonumaipea who scored with six minutes left to get a lead that the Highlanders were unable to peg back. It had been that sort of game. The Highlanders opened with two tries in the first quarter, to wing Rory van Vugt and lock Josh Dickson. The Rebels responded with two tries in the second quarter with the lead changing in each of the third and fourth quarters. It ended as a morale boost for the Rebels whose season is over while the losing bonus point ensured the Highlanders would retain a playoffs spot meeting the Blues in Auckland.
Rebels 31 (Jordan Uilese, Glen Vaihu, Nick Jooste, Lukas Ripley, Young Tonumaipea tries; Matt Toomua 3 con) Highlanders 30 (Rory van Vugt, Josh Dickson, Folau Fakatava, Fetuli Paea tries; Marty Banks con, 2 pen; Vilimoni Koroi con). HT: 14-18