With the 2015 Super Rugby play-offs less than a week away we review the 18th and final round of regular season games, focusing on the New Zealand franchises with the upcoming British & Irish Lions tour in mind.
The Hurricanes ran in 21 unanswered points to finish in style and condemn the Chiefs to an away play-off this weekend.
Despite slipping to a 13-0 deficit, the Canes – in search of their maiden Super Rugby title – overturned their opponents in clinical style.
Beauden Barrett was on the sidelines with an injured calf while Ma’a Nonu was given a rest but it mattered little to the regular-season table-toppers.
Conrad Smith and James Marshall each crossed over after the Hurricanes had earned a penalty try to clinch the points and they will now enjoy a bye in the play-offs.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, now travel to the Highlanders and they will have to do so without the help of scrum-half Augustine Pulu after the 25-year-old suffered a fractured forearm and will now face a lay-off of up to ten weeks.
The Highlanders secured home advantage in that play-off clash with their 44-7 thrashing of the struggling Blues on Friday.
For a side that finished 14th in the Super Rugby table just two years ago, the league’s second highest points tally – beaten only by the Hurricanes – is evidence of an impressive season.
And they head into the play-offs in high spirits after seven different try scorers came to the party at Eden Park and spoiled Keven Mealamu’s Super Rugby farewell.
John Hardie, Shaun Treeby, Elliot Dixon, Patrick Osborne, Dan Pryor and Joe Latta each crossed over before All Black Ben Smith added the finishing touches late on.
There is no play-off place, however, for the Crusaders, who miss out on the Super Rugby post-season for the first time in 14 years.
They signed off with a 37-24 victory over the Brumbies as Nemani Nadolo grabbed two tries and Dan Carter – who will join up with new club Racing Metro after the World Cup – adding 17 points from the tee.
Saturday’s other play-off clash will see the Brumbies visit South African Conference winners the Stormers, while reigning champions the Waratahs join the Hurricanes in receiving a bye to the semi-finals.
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