In the second season of their involvement, the Fijian Drua beat the Reds 41-17 in Suva to knock the Highlanders out of the playoffs race and leapfrog the Reds. However, it does leave them facing a trip to Christchurch to play the Crusaders at 7.35 pm on Saturday.
Moana Pasifika pummeled the Waratahs 33-24 to gain their only win of the season, leaving the Sydneysiders to pick themselves up to play the Blues in Auckland at 7.35 pm on Friday.
The Chiefs, who were untroubled with their reduced-strength side to beat the Force 43-19, will play the Reds in Hamilton at 4.35 pm on Saturday, while the Hurricanes, who beat the Crusaders 27-26 in Wellington, will play the Brumbies at 9.35 pm on Saturday.
Going into the quarterfinals, Blues wing Mark Telea, Chiefs fullback Shaun Stevenson and Crusaders wing Leicester Fainga'anuku share the top try-scoring berth with 11 tries each, while the top three points scorers are Chiefs' first five-eighths Damian McKenzie on 148, Crusaders first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga on 125 and Rebels utility Reece Hodge on 119.
Blues 16 Highlanders 7
Scoreless in the second half, the Blues had the benefit of a superior first half in which they gave the Highlanders nothing, but they will be disappointed that they got no points from a string of third-quarter scrums in the Highlanders' 22m area. The Highlanders had one dangerous breakout that could have tied the game up and given them a chance for an upset win. However, the Blue's defence, which has been so reliable all season, held up, and they were able to claim their home quarterfinal against the Waratahs.
Just how much the Blues dominated the game with the 65 per cent possession could be seen in their running 532 metres to 142 by the Highlanders. They also beat 45 defenders to 10, the Highlanders having to make 145 tackle attempts to 74 by the Blues. The home team dominated the ruck, winning 95-44, and the mauls 5-2. The lower numbers enjoyed their night out with props Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Nepo Laulala thriving in powerful runs with the ball in hand. Fullback Zarn Sullivan carved off plenty of metres with his kicks. Wing Mark Telea was busy, beating 13 defenders and making 112 metres and being denied a try by a photo finish earlier in the play when second five-eighths Harry Plummer slid over the sideline as he released the ball. Flanker Anton Segner was also in the action with 62 metres run.
Blues 16 (Patrick Tuipulotu try; Harry Plummer con, 3pen) Highlanders 9 (Sam Gilbert 3 pen). HT: 16-6
ACT Brumbies 33 Rebels 17
Up 7-3, after wing Corey Toole scored the first try, the Brumbies were undone all too easily when Rebels' first five-eighths Carter Gordon was untroubled to respond to see his side claim the lead. However, Brumbies hooker Connal McInerney got low enough in a drive at the line to convince referee Angus Gardner he had scored. The Rebels looked to score first in the second half, but fullback Tom Wright pounced on a dropped ball in the centres, and he set in train an 80-metre inter-passing movement that ended with him scoring. Minutes later, an in-pass from centre Leni Ikitau was enough for second five-eighths Ollie Sapsford to cross and knock the fizz out of the visitors. While the Rebels scored a consolation try to Brad Wilkin, they had to concede an 80m intercept try, which wing Andy Muirhead finally touched down.
The two sides covered a lot of ground, the Brumbies running 673m and the Rebels 500. The Rebels conceded 16 overs to 12 and had to make fewer tackles, 125-171. But in missing 31-24 and conceding 16 turnovers to 12, they provided the openings the Brumbies used to advantage.
ACT Brumbies 33 (Corey Toole, Connal McInerney, Tom Wright, Ollie Sapsford, Andy Muirhead tries; Jack Debreczeni 4 con) Rebels 17 (Carter Gordon, Brad Wilkin tries; Reece Hodge 2 con, pen). HT: 14-10
Fijian Drua 41 Reds 17
From the fifth minute, when fullback Selestino Ravutaumada charged down a clearing kick by Filipo Daugunu to regather and score, the Fijian Drua were on target to pour misery on the Reds. The sides went tit-for-tat when Ryan Smith scored four minutes later to level the score. Wing Kaleveti Ravouvou put the home team in front in the 18th minute, but flanker Fraser McReight scored with first five-eighths James O'Connor adding a penalty goal to the two conversions he landed to put the Reds out to a 17-12 lead. But then a perfect chip kick by centre Iosefo Masi bounced into flanker Vilive Miramira's hands, and the teams went to the break 17-17.
However, the second half belonged to the home team, who sent their supporters into raptures as they assured themselves of a visit to the playoffs for the first time. Prop Mesake Doge, hooker Tevita Ikanivere and flanker Joseva Tamani scored while the Reds could not respond, leaving their season hanging by a thread. The Drua carried 462 metres to 192 and made eight unanswered clean breaks. The Reds were forced to make 140 tackles to 100, and they missed 28. The Drua lineout was also more effective, with 12-8 success.
Fijian Drua 41 (Celestino Ravutaumada, Kaleveti Ravouvou, Vilive Miramira, Joseva Tamani, Mesake Doge, Tevita Ikanivere tries; Caleb Muntz con; Frank Lomani 2 con, pen; Kemu Valetini con) Reds 17 (Ryan Smith, Fraser McReight tries; James O'Connor 2 con, pen). HT: 17-17
Hurricanes 27 Crusaders 26
Not even conceding 19 points in 31 minutes to the visiting Crusaders was enough to knock the Hurricanes off their game in Wellington. Wing Leicester Fainga'anuku, hooker Codie Taylor and centre Braydon Ennor crossed for the visitors before centre Billy Proctor scored a minute out from halftime for the home side. That proved critical the longer the game went on. Into the second half, the Hurricanes enjoyed some excellent field position, and while it took 20 minutes for that to have an impact, when they got their chances, they took them.
Halfback Cameron Roigard was on hand to take a lovely slip pass from flanker Ardie Savea. Fullback Josh Moorby then made the most of good passes inside from first five-eighths Brett Cameron and second five-eighths Jordie Barrett to slide over out wide. But the gem of them all was No8 Brayden Iose's game-killer from a scrum just inside the Crusader's 22m line. Running from the base, he pushed off the first line of defence and outran the cover to put the issue beyond doubt. On their only visit into the Hurricanes' 22m area, the Crusaders finally got second-half points with replacement wing Chay Fihaki crossing in the corner. But it was only window dressing in the final count as the Hurricanes played out time.
Hurricanes 27 (Billy Proctor, Cameron Roigard, Josh Moorby, Brayden Iose tries; Jordie Barrett pen; Brett Cameron 2 con) Crusaders 26 (Leicester Fainga'anuku, Codie Taylor, Braydon Ennor, Chay Fihaki tries; Richie Mo'unga 3 con). HT: 8-19
Waratahs 24 Moana Pasifika 33
Kick and chase provided the opening scoring for the Waratahs, with fullback Mark Nawaqanitawase getting a favourable bounce to score five minutes into the game. However, it was the last time they saw the lead as Moana Pasifika turned on their power game up front, with the ball moving easily between forwards and backs. Wing Timoci Tavatavanawai and flanker Miracle Faiilagi scored twice, with first five-eighths Christian Lealiifano finishing off with a try and stinging the home side with a fine goal-kicking display.
Running 623 metres to 466, Moana Pasifika beat 36 defenders to 19 and missed only 19 tackles compared to 36 by the Waratahs. With most other areas shared. The Waratahs are left with the task of picking themselves up and returning to Eden Park to take on the Blues to attempt to make the semifinals.
Waratahs 24 (Mark Nawaqanitawase, Ned Hannigan, Tolu Latu, Michael Hooper tries; Ben Donaldson 2 con) Moana Pasifika 33 (Timoci Tavatavanawai 2, Miracle Faiilagi 2, Christian Lealiifano tries; Lealiifano 4 con). HT: 14-21.
Force 19 Chiefs 43
Any concerns the Chiefs might have given the Force a chance to push hard for a win by resting up key players ahead of the quarterfinals were eliminated early as the visitors demonstrated their squad's depth of spirit and determination by taking control early. They swamped the home team in a running display that saw them run 686 metres and the Force 500. The Chiefs were better with the ball in hand, beating 31 defenders to 15 and making 13 clean breaks to three. They also had to make 226 tackles to 133, but their accuracy was effective, missing only 15 tackles to 31 by the Force. The home team won the rucks 139-84, but that defensive efficiency denied them the points they needed to be competitive.
It was a heartening display for the Chiefs, who could take plenty from the first five-eighths display of Rameka Pohipi, his first start in the role at Super Rugby level. Halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi showed how effective he could be with an impressive display.
Western Force 19 (Carlo Tizzano, Tim Anstee, Max Burey tries; Burey 2 con) Chiefs 43 (Lachlan McWhannell, Anton Lienert-Brown, Liam Coombes-Fabling, Samipeni Finau, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Pita Gus Sowakula tries; Rameka Pohipi 5 con, pen). HT: 7-29