The Brumbies bounced back from a first defeat to claim the outright Super Rugby Pacific lead at the weekend, but admitted their title credentials cannot be gauged until they face New Zealand opposition.
The Brumbies celebrated the 150th Super Rugby cap for their Wallabies prop James Slipper with a 33-12 win over Fijian Drua in Brisbane. Seven days earlier in the same city, the Brumbies had fallen to their first defeat of the season at the hands of the Reds, who drew level on top of the table.
But with the Reds not playing over the weekend, the Brumbies’ bonus-point win lifted them four points clear of the Blues and Crusaders, who both maintained their winning streaks to share second place.
The Brumbies have played one more game than their near rivals and will have a bye next week before the trans-Tasman matches begin.
“The competition kind of starts now,” said Brumbies captain Nic White. “If you told me at the start of the season we’d be 7-1, I’d have taken it for sure but it’s just a foot in the door.
“It’s given us an opportunity, that’s all. The Kiwis are the measuring stick and we are keen to throw some punches and see how we go.”
The Brumbies’ win was based around the power of their forwards, with four of the five tries coming from rolling mauls near the try line. Fullback Tom Wright scored two tries, matched by Drua winger Onisi Ratave, who crossed twice in the second half.
In Hamilton, All Blacks star Beauden Barrett returned from injury to lead the Blues to a 25-0 shutout of the Chiefs.
Barrett suffered a worrying head knock two weeks ago in his first match since suffering concussion against Ireland in November. But the accomplished flyhalf showed no ill-effects and produced a stirring attacking display as the Blues overcame three yellow cards to notch a fifth successive win.
It was the first time the Chiefs have been held scoreless in Super Rugby and they could now be without All Blacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown after he suffered a shoulder injury and was forced off in the seventh minute.
“He’s putting on a brave face, but initial reports indicate it’s not looking good,” said Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan. “His arm’s in a sling at the moment.”
The Crusaders made it three wins on the trot in contentious style, holding out the Hurricanes 24-21 in Wellington.
Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea appeared to be played in the air by fellow All Black Scott Barrett in a late attacking lineout as the home side pushed for victory. Any infringement was ignored, leaving Savea critical of referee Brendon Pickerill.
“As a leader I like to put pressure on, and demand from the officials to make sure they’re doing everything they can to get these calls right,” the skipper said.
“We get an apology the next week but it’s too late. Without saying anything disrespectful, I’d just love to have the officials demand better.”
In Perth, the Rebels held on to beat the Force 22-21, having lost inside centre Ray Nu’u to a red card for a high tackle with 30 minutes remaining. The Force, who scored three tries to one, remain in seventh place, two positions ahead of their victorious opponents.
The Highlanders registered their first win of the season with a comprehensive 37-17 defeat of Moana Pasifika in Dunedin. It leaves the Pacific Island combination team at the foot of the 12-team table, one place behind fellow newcomers the Drua.
© Agence France-Presse