SYDNEY – The ACT Brumbies stunned the Wellington Hurricanes 12-10 Saturday to strike a blow to their hopes of making the trans-Tasman Super Rugby finals, but the Otago Highlanders stayed in the hunt by crushing the NSW Waratahs.
A bonus point win for the Hurricanes in Canberra would have lifted them atop the ladder, but defeat instead left them fourth behind the Auckland Blues, Highlanders and Canterbury Crusaders with one round to play ahead of the June 19 final.
In a bruising encounter, the Brumbies scored two tries to one, with Jordie Barrett fluffing two penalties in the dying minutes to win the match for the visitors.
At Dunedin, the Highlanders kept themselves in the race by extending the Waratahs' record losing streak to 12, running in nine tries for a 59-23 win.
"You've got to be pleased about it, the boys dug deep there," said Brumbies skipper Allan Alaalatoa. "After half-time we just wanted to come out with good intensity."
Victory was only the second win by an Australian team so far, after the Reds upset the Chiefs last week.
The Brumbies withstood early pressure before barging over for the opening try when Ryan Lonergan breached the defence from close range.
But the advantage was short-lived with All Black Dane Coles dotting down from a lineout maul soon after in a match played at a frenetic pace and intensity.
Both teams created opportunities but the deadlock remained until Barrett nailed a penalty just before the break to hand the Hurricanes a 10-7 half-time lead.
The Brumbies dominated early in the second stanza and took the lead after a sparkling solo try by Noah Lolesio, but as the clock ticked down the Hurricanes pressed hard.
They had a try disallowed for a knock on before Barrett missed two penalties in the final minutes.
"That's a tough pill to swallow. Pretty gutted," said Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea.
They now face a must-win clash next week against the Reds, while hoping their rivals slip up.
The Highlanders scored nine tries to two in Dunedin, moving to second on the ladder alongside the Crusaders.
"It's game on," said Highlanders skipper Ash Dixon, whose team face the Brumbies next week.
"I'm pretty pleased with that one. We wanted to play with a bit of passion and put on a performance for possibly our last game at home."
It was the Waratahs' 12th straight defeat, equalling the record for an Australian Super Rugby side set by the Rebels in 2011-12.
The action was end-to-end as both sides played expansive rugby, with the lead changing hands seven times in the first half alone.
Highlanders centre Michael Collins struck within two minutes of the start as a Sio Tomkinson offload caught the Waratahs defence napping.
They crossed five times before the break, with wingers Jona Nareki and Tomkinson turning on the afterburners for their efforts, while forwards Ethan de Groot and Ash Dixon powered through.
Jack Maddocks and Mark Nawaqanitawase kept the Waratahs in touch, along with three penalties, making it 33-23 at half-time.
The Highlanders ramped up their defence after the restart, holding the Waratahs scoreless in the second half as they notched four more tries through de Groot, Kazuki Himeno, Nareki and Teariki Ben-Nicholas.