CANBERRA – The Brumbies and Hurricanes both staged battling fightbacks to win their final Super Rugby conference clashes Saturday and head into next weekend's quarter-finals full of confidence.
On a freezing night in Canberra, the Brumbies rallied from a 7-0 deficit to beat the Queensland Reds 40-27 for their sixth straight win.
Their stellar form had already guaranteed them third place overall behind the Crusaders and Jaguares and a home knock-out tie against the sixth-placed team, which will be decided after the final games in South Africa later Saturday.
In Wellington, the Hurricanes produced a stunning second-half comeback to down the Auckland Blues 29-24 in a match where nothing was at stake.
Regardless of the outcome, they knew they would be hosting a last eight clash against the fifth-placed team, which will also be known after the late games.
The Blues, meanwhile, could do nothing about being rooted to the bottom of the New Zealand conference.
"I thought we turned up with a real nice mindset considering our momentum and we got the job done," said Brumbies skipper Christian Leali'ifano.
"Obviously we've got some things also to look at defensively and we're do that this week. I think there's still some improvement to come from us."
The Reds, farewelling captain Samu Kerevi who will play in Japan next season, got an early breakthrough with fullback Bryce Hegarty darting over after a six-phase attack.
They were unlucky not to stretch the lead when a try was disallowed for a high tackle by Taniela Tupou.
The big prop was sin binned and in his absence the Brumbies struck back with Andy Muirhead wrongfooting two defenders to dot down, and they got another after No.8 Lachlan McCaffrey picked up the ball from a driving maul at the base of the post.
More misery was piled on the Reds on half-time when the Brumbies were awarded a penalty try and the Scott Higginbotham was yellow-carded to give the home team a 19-10 advantage.
Ten minutes into the second-stanza and they were 33-10 in front with Rory Arnold scoring from a maul and Tom Wright getting an intercept try. The Reds showed some backbone to pull back 17 points but the Brumbies' sixth try, from Murray Douglas, ensured the win.
The Brumbies are the only Australian team to make the last eight, with the Rebels and Waratahs narrowly missing out along with the Reds.
In Wellington, the Hurricanes rested several stars including All Blacks Beauden and Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape, while the Blues welcomed back double World Cup winner Sonny Bill Williams from injury.
The Blues, who have not won away this year and not beaten a New Zealand team away for six years, raced to an early 10-0 lead and by half-time were ahead 24-5.
Tanielu Tele'a, Caleb Clarke and Melani Nanai scored with Otere Black landing three conversions and a penalty while Peter Umaga-Jensen's try was the sole reward for the home team.
But a stirring pep-talk at the break fired up the inexperienced Hurricanes who took control, with their cause assisted by ill-discipline from the Blues.
Tries to Fletcher Smith, Isaia Walker-Leawere and Peter Umaga-Jensen, all converted by Jackson Garden-Bachop, had the Hurricanes ahead for the first time at 26-24 in the 63rd minute.
Garden-Bachop added another three points with five minutes left when the Blues conceded their 11th penalty of the match.
Captain Dane Coles said it was a big boost heading into the play-offs knowing there was depth in the squad.
"I'm stoked for the young lads," he said. "We threw so many guys in at the deep end. It wasn't pretty in the first half but the way (they) responded with a rev-up at half-time, I'm just proud of the effort.AFP