WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Hamilton, New Zealand-based Chiefs once again are clearly established in first place in Super Rugby Pacific a week after a streak-ending loss undermined their position atop the table.
Last weekend’s shock loss to the Queensland Reds which stopped the Chiefs’ season-long winning streak at 10 games also brought them back to within five points or a bonus-point win of the second-place ACT Brumbies.
But the Brumbies sustained their own upset defeat on Saturday, losing to the Western Force and the Chiefs’ now hold an eight-point lead over the defending champion Crusaders who seem to be working up late-season momentum.
With 50 points, the Chiefs now are assured of a home quarterfinal while the Crusaders, Brumbies, Blues and Hurricanes are in competition for three other top-four places.
Competition for eighth place and the last quarterfinal spot also is warming up. With their win over the Brumbies, the Force hold eighth place with 22 points but the Highlanders, Fijian Drua and Melbourne Rebels all are within six points of the Force.
Two rounds remain in the regular season and both rounds contain critical match-ups in the top-four and eighth-place contests.
The Chiefs and Brumbies meet next weekend in a match which only a week ago looked like a straight contest for first place. But the Brumbies now are nine points behind the Chiefs in third place.
The match still with weigh heavily in the race for top four places as will matches between the Christchurch-based Crusaders and New South Wales Waratahs and the Auckland-based Blues and Wellington-based Hurricanes.
Matches between the Dunedin-based Highlanders and Reds, the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika and the Force and Rebels will shape the contest for eighth and other quarterfinal places.
The Hurricanes and Crusaders meet in the last regular-season round in which critical placings still likely will be up for grabs.
The Chiefs restored some order in the championship with their win on Saturday in the rain-soaked match against the Hurricanes.
They had taken the opportunity in their previous two matches against the Reds and Fijian Drua to meet the requirement to rest their All Blacks and were restored to strength against the Hurricanes. But the Hurricanes were under-strength, having chosen to rest All Blacks Ardie Savea, Jordie Barrett and Tyrel Lomax.
The Brumbies also rested players in their match against the Force and paid the same price the Chiefs paid when they lost to the Reds.
The Force won 34-19 and Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said his team was “very inconsistent across the board. I don’t think there was an area we were better than the Force tonight.
“We just made a lot of mistakes, whether it was set piece mistakes or individual mistakes that stopped us getting momentum.”
The Crusaders also took the change to rest players against last-place Moana Pasifika and won 41-7. Later they moved into second place after the Force’s win over the Brumbies.
Captain Scott Barrett praised the young players who made the best of one of the few opportunities they have had to take the field this season.
“There’s quite a few young boys here and they rolled their sleeves up tonight,” he said. “When you have a few guys who have been holding hit-shields for a lot of the season, we saw they were hungry and put their hands up.”
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