The Brumbies have secured Australian conference honours and finally put paid to the NSW Waratahs’ Super Rugby finals hopes with a comprehensive derby win at Bankwest Stadium.
The Brumbies were never seriously threatened after piling on four unanswered first-half tries in a 35-24 victory on Saturday night that left the Canberrans nine points clear of the Melbourne Rebels and 14 ahead of the Waratahs entering the final round.
While the third-placed Brumbies will look to push for an all-important top-two spot with victory over the Queensland Reds in the national capital next Saturday, the Waratahs will head to Invercargill for a dead-rubber game against the Highlanders.
With his side’s title hopes shot after a season dogged by the Israel Folau saga, Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson can now at least rest his Test stars as per a pre-season pact with with Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
Had the Tahs still been in finals contention next week, Gibson might well have been tempted to run the gauntlet.
As has become the norm in recent years, the Brumbies were too physical and clinical for the Waratahs, who yet again failed to back up after scoring an impressive win over the Rebels last week in Melbourne.
In a frustrating campaign for both the Waratahs and their fans alike, Gibson’s 2018 semi-finalists managed to string together successive wins just once.
And they have notched only three wins from eight outing since Folau’s suspension and the subsequent sacking out Super Rugby’s all-time leading try-scorer for his controversial social media posts.
The Brumbies’ fourth successive derby win in Sydney also marked the end of an era for the Waratahs.
The London Irish-bound trio of Curtis Rona, Nick Phipps and Sekope Kepu have all played their last home games for NSW, while fellow Wallabies stars Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Bernard Foley are also off contract at the end of the season and weighing up their futures in Australia.
All but Rona featured in the Waratahs’ 2014 championship-winning team, leaving Gibson potentially facing a major overhaul before next year.
The Brumbies had the match – and conference bragging rights – all but wrapped up at halftime.
Replies from Phipps and Ashley-Cooper in the second half gave home fans a glimmer of hope before flanker Tom Cusack sealed victory with the Brumbies’ fifth try with five minutes remaining.
“I felt like we took our opportunities. We tried to play reasonably simple and our forward pack were really strong and it was nice to get a mixture of scores there,” Lealiifano said.
“So things are working really well. Top of the conference is nice.”
But the Waratahs denied the Brumbies a bonus point when Rona touched down after the fulltime siren.
“The Brumbies, like we spoke about all week, stuck to their guns and played a really dominant game there,” said Waratahs captain Michael Hooper.
“Their first half, their penalty to sideline to driving maul was clearly too hard to stop and credit to them – they’ve worked out a really strong way of playing.”
Sign up to our mailing list here and we’ll keep you up to the minute with weekly updates from the world of rugby.