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Blues into Super Rugby semis; Highlanders out

The Blues have powered into the Super Rugby Pacific semifinals, while the Highlanders' season has ended.

The Blues scored five tries in a 36-5 victory over the Fijian Drua at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday night, before the ACT Brumbies denied an all-NZ semifinals lineup, beating the Highlanders 32-16 in Canberra.


All Blacks wing Caleb Clarke scored two tries as the Blues reached the Super Rugby semifinals for the eighth time in the franchise's history, setting up a home semifinal against the Brumbies on Friday (kick-off 7.05pm).

The regular season champion Hurricanes, who defeated the Melbourne Rebels 47-20 earlier on Saturday, will host the Chiefs, who beat the Queensland Reds 43-21 on Friday night, in the other semifinal at Wellington's Sky Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 4.35pm).

In a physical contest, the Blues raced to a 22-0 lead after 35 minutes and held off a Drua resurgence in the second half.

The Blues had missed out on top spot in the final standings only on points difference, while the Drua had not won on the road this year and the gulf in class was clear in the first half at 'The Garden of Eden'.

Caleb Clarke Blues rugby Super Rugby Pacific
Caleb Clarke scored two tries in the Blues romp over the Fijian Drua. PHOTO: SUPER RUGBY

Flanker Dalton Papali'i, halfback Finlay Christie and Clarke crossed for tries as the Blues executed with precision and the Drua made a succession of errors.

Papali'i scored off the back of a 5m lineout drive in the ninth minute, Christie took a Reiko Ioane offload close to the line in the 18th minute and Clarke took a long cut-out pass from Harry Plummer to go over just before halftime.

Drua wing Selestino Ravutaumada triggered a Drua fightback with a brilliant, mazy run for a try three minutes into the second half, and for a while the visitors grabbed the momentum.

The Blues never recovered their dominance, but reserve hooker Kurt Eklund scored a try in the 64th minute and Clarke scythed through the defence to grab his second to snuff out any chance of an upset.

The difference in quality was evidenced in the second half at GIO Stadium as the Brumbies shut down the Highlanders, advancing to Super Rugby's final four for the 13th time in 27 full seasons.

The pesky Highlanders, who finished the regular season with six fewer wins and 24 fewer points than the Brumbies, trailed by just one point at halftime, 17-16, but the home side dominated the second 40.

The Highlanders opened the scoring with a second-minute penalty goal from Cameron Millar following a Brumbies scrum infringement.

But the Brumbies proceeded to dominate for most of the first half, with centre Len Ikitau and speedy wing Corey Toole both going close to scoring off Tom Wright kicks.

It seemed only a matter of time before the Highlanders yielded and there was no denying Andy Muirhead in the 15th minute when the Brumbies spread the ball beautifully from the left all the way across to the right wing to finish.

Only Brumbies ill-discipline and turnovers kept the Highlanders in the contest as two more Millar penalty goals nudged the visitors into a 9-7 lead.

Noah Lolesio wrestled the advantage back briefly with a Brumbies penalty goal, only for the Highlanders to strike back with a try to wing Jona Nareki.

After four lead changes, the Brumbies deservedly had the final say of the half when hard-working hooker Billy Pollard crashed his way over to give the home side a 17-16 buffer at the break.

If the result was still in doubt after Pollard bagged his second early in the second half, it did not look so when Muirhead showed Lionel Messi-like dribbling skills to complete his own double off a Lolesio cross-field kick in the 46th minute to extend the Brumbies' lead to 13 points.

Blues 36 (Dalton Papali’i, Finlay Chrisite, Caleb Clarke 2, Kurt Eklund tries; Harry Plummer 3 con, pen; Stephen Perofeta con) Fijian Drua 5 (Selestino Ravutaumada try). HT: 22-0

ACT Brumbies 32 (Andy Muirhead 2, Billy Pollard 2 tries; Noah Lolesio 3 con, 2 pen) Highlanders 16 (Jona Nareki try; Cameron Millar con, 3 pen). HT: 17-16


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