There was controversy in the closest game, a 37-33 win for the Brumbies over the Hurricanes in Canberra; Hurricanes captain and No.8 Ardie Savea was emphatic after the game that he had scored in the final play. However, the referee Nic Berry and his TMO felt otherwise, saying Brumbies loose forward Luke Reimer got his hand under the ball.
The Chiefs also had a more challenging match than was anticipated when the Reds honoured their retiring coach, former All-Black World Cup winner Brad Thorn, with an outstanding display that saw them go close to repeating their regular season win over the Chiefs in New Plymouth before going down 20-29 in Hamilton.
Blues 41 Waratahs 12
The gulf between New Zealand and Australia at the DHL Super Rugby Pacific level was rammed home by the Blues, who played with only 35 per cent of the territory. Yet under that burden, they secured 59 per cent of possession, and despite conceding a second-minute try when failing to cover a bouncing ball, they took the lead in the 16th minute after some Mark Telea magic on the wing unleashed the home backs before halfback Finlay Christie scored the first of five Blues tries. Prop Nepo Laulala, Ricky Riccitelli, fullback Zarn Sullivan and finally, Telea from a dropped Waratahs ball – all crossed and all of them were converted, four by first five-eighths Beauden Barrett and the last by replacement Harry Plummer.
The statistics favoured the Blues in all but territory. Yet, the Waratahs could not take advantage of their most dangerous weapon, Mark Nawaqanitawase, who was denied consistent quality ball to test the home team. Tackles missed by the Waratahs were 12-35. The Blues ran 688 metres to 382 by the Waratahs. They beat 35 defenders to 10, achieving a 92 per cent success rate with their tackles, as opposed to 82 for the Waratahs. The visitors managed only 72 per cent success with their lineouts, while the Blues were 88 per cent. Barrett brought up his 100 points for the season, finishing on 105.
Blues 41 (Finlay Christie, Nepo Laulala, Ricky Riccitelli, Zarn Sullivan, Mark Telea tries; Beauden Barrett 4 con, pen; Harry Plummer con, pen) Waratahs 12 (Neg Hannigan, Dylan Pietsch tries; Tane Edmed con). HT: 17-7
Chiefs 29 Reds 20
Assured goal-kicking from the competition's leading points scorer Damian McKenzie who kicked 19 points for the Chiefs, against only 40 per cent goal-kicking from rival Tom Lynagh, denied the Reds the chance to produce another upset win, having earlier beaten the Chiefs in New Plymouth. But they did their best to make up the points difference with wing Suliasi Vunivalu crossing twice and No8 Harry Wilson adding their third try. It took some class from Chiefs wing Emoni Narawa, who scored just before halftime, and No8 Pita Gus Sowakula, who scored what proved the match-winner five minutes from the end to give them a points buffer for the final moments.
Farewelling coach Brad Thorn, the Reds gave the Chiefs a physical hurry-up by making the most of what possession they could secure. However, clean breaks favoured the Chiefs 10-2; they beat 27 defenders to 17 and won 132 rucks to 86. They forced the Reds to make 226 tackles compared to 148. That proved the difference, but the Reds could take satisfaction for showing more determination and nous than their inter-state rivals managed against the Blues.
Chiefs 29 (Emoni Narawa, Pita Gus Sowakula tries; Damian McKenzie 2 con, 5pen) Reds 20 (Suliasi Vunivalu 2, Harry Wilson tries; Tom Lynagh con, pen). HT: 16-10
Crusaders 49 Fijian Drua 8
Up 21-0 in 15 minutes, the Crusaders rammed home the reality of playoffs rugby to the competition newcomers. The home pack went to work with hooker Codie Taylor crossing twice and prop Oli Jager also scoring. It was just as well they did because they were down to 13 players on the field through pure attrition by the game's end. They opted to err on the side of caution with first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga taken off to avoid further injury with the short turnaround until Friday's game against the Blues. The champions ensured the Drua, keen to upset the usual Crusaders rhythm, would have to work hard to succeed. It meant there were long periods where the game drifted, but the Crusaders were always on top.
They enjoyed 61 per cent of possession and 70 per cent of territory. They only had to make 116 tackles to 173 by the Drua, and the Drua missed 34 tackles to only 12 by the Crusaders. The home team also ran 552 metres to 321 and made six clear breaks to four. The Crusaders also dominated the rucks 112 to 64. By the time they had finished, Scott Robertson's men had achieved their highest points haul in playoffs rugby.
Crusaders 49 (Oli Jager, Codie Taylor 2, Sione Havili-Talitui, Scott Barrett, Will Jordan, Willi Heinz tries; Richie Mo'unga 6 con; Fergus Burke con) Fijian Drua 8 (Celestino Ravutaumada try; Frank Lomani pen). HT: 28-8
Brumbies 37 Hurricanes 33
An injury-time ruling that Brumbies replacement loose forward Luke Reimer wrapped his hand under the ball held by a diving Hurricanes captain and No8 Ardie Savea meant it was the Canberra side that claimed the chance to play the semifinal in Hamilton against the Chiefs in a week. It was a tough blow for a Hurricanes side who fought back from 16-25 down to give the home side the biggest fright of the finals weekend. The Brumbies' first-half dominance proved crucial, but they needed a final quarter defensive effort to deny the Hurricanes, especially after a stunning 70m solo try by loose forward Devan Flanders gave them a chance to win.
The Hurricanes could claim a win on the statistical front, running 426 metres to 412 and enjoying 54 per cent possession and 58 per cent territory. They beat 30 defenders to 15 and won 124 rucks to 92. They forced the Brumbies to make 203 tackles to 145. Yet, the Brumbies made better use of their attacking opportunities, scoring five tries to three. Again, the first half gave them the buffer to stay in touch, capitalise with a late try to claim the lead, and then absorb the Hurricanes' pressure to ensure their win.
Brumbies 37 (Ollie Sapsford, Jack Debreczeni, Len Ikitau, Luke Reimer, Tom Wright tries; Debreczeni 2 con, 2 pens; Noah Lolesio con) Hurricanes 33 (Kini Naholo, Ardie Savea, Devan Flanders tries; Brett Cameron 3 con, 4 pens).