An invincible ACT Brumbies overpowered bottom-dwellers Western Force 31-14 to cement top spot on the Super Rugby AU ladder and book themselves a home final after a historic night Friday.
In the penultimate weekend of the regular season, they started slowly before kicking into gear in a scrappy five tries to two bonus-point win, inflicting a demoralising seventh straight defeat on the Perth team.
Brumbies ease into Super Rugby AU final
It moved them seven points clear of the Queensland Reds, who have a bye this weekend. Both sides have one game to play, meaning the Brumbies can’t be caught, ensuring they host the tournament final on 19 September.
The teams who finish second and third will play-off for the right to meet them, with the NSW Waratahs facing the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday in a must-win clash to stand any chance of making the top-three.
The Brumbies’ win came on a landmark day for Super Rugby, with Australian Amy Perrett becoming the first woman to referee a men’s professional game in the southern hemisphere.
“We knew the Force were going to come out hard in the first half, and they did as well at the beginning of second, and I’m just proud of the effort,” said skipper Alan Alaalatoa after their 15th win from 16 on home soil.
“It’s really, really special (to be in the final), but we will try not to think about that and just execute our gameplay next week.”
Force captain Ian Prior admitted he was “pretty gutted” with the result.
“Same thing again, couple of penalties (given away) and it swung momentum in the game,” he added. “But we showed a lot of guts, a lot of character out there.”
After a demoralising thrashing by the Reds last week, the Force started strongly, attacking the Brumbies line persistently and were rewarded with the opening try on eight minutes.
After winning a penalty, they kicked for touch rather than the posts and flanker Fergus Lee-Warner crashed over from the lineout, with Prior converting.
The Brumbies struggled for possession but worked their way into the contest and had two tries disallowed within minutes of each other for a knock-on and obstruction.
But it proved third time lucky as the momentum shifted and Tom Wright raced over in the corner after a poor Force kick gave away possession.
Tom Banks sent the home team into the break with a 10-7 lead after another try just before the hooter, beating two defenders with some nifty footwork, then Will Miller got their third soon after the restart.
The Force refused to go away and Jono Lance spotted a gap to dot down and close the gap only for young gun Len Ikitau to burst through for the Brumbies’ fourth try.
It gave them a 10-point buffer going into the last 15 minutes and Andy Muirhead made sure of the win.
© Agence France-Presse