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Hurricanes claim top spot; Crusaders done


The Hurricanes have claimed Super Rugby Pacific regular season honours after some late drama in Auckland.


The Hurricanes had no trouble in dispatching the playoffs-bound Highlanders 41-14 in the Capital, before the Blues failed to secure a bonus point in a 31-17 victory over the fourth-placed Chiefs at Eden Park.


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Those results saw the Hurricanes (12-0-2) finish on 56 points, with the Blues (12-0-2) a point behind. The ACT Brumbies (12-0-2) topped the Western Force in Perth to secure third, while the Chiefs (9-0-5) will also host a quarterfinal next week.


The Blues had been in-line for a bonus-point win, which would have earned them the top spot on superior points difference, until Josh Ioane's 80th minute try for the Chiefs denied them.


Instead, the Hurricanes sat atop a Super Rugby table at season's end for the first time since 2016 and guaranteed home advantage through the playoffs.


Earlier in the day, the Fijian Drua defeated the Melbourne Rebels 40-19 in Lautoka to end the defending champion Crusaders' hopes, then celebrated when the Brumbies' win over the Force locked them into eighth.


TJ Perenara Hurricanes Super Rugby Pacific
TJ Perenara (right) celebrates his try with Asafo Aumua. PHOTO: SUPER RUGBY

The Hurricanes allowed the first try, to Highlanders centre Matt Whaanga, but had little trouble after that, scoring the next 24 points and leading 29-14 at halftime.


After going down early, the Canes got a double from wing Salesi Rayasi, with tries from flanker Du'Plessis Kirifi and halfback TJ Perenara, Super Rugby's all-time leading tryscorer, in between.


Lock Fabian Holland got the visitors back into the contest briefly, before Kirifi scored his second.


The Highlanders also suffered from ill-discipline, with Connor Garden-Bachop (37th minute) and Sam Gilbert (56th minute) being shown yellow cards for contact to the head, both instances in the led-up to Hurricanes tries.


Rayasi got his hat-trick in the 55th minute, before No 8 Brayden Iose completed the scoring in the 62nd minute.



Leading 31-7 with 15 minutes remaining, after two tries from Hoskins Sotutu and others from Ricki Riccitelli, Mark Tele'a and Akira Ioane, the Blues were odds-on to grab that all-important bonus point.


However, the Chiefs spoiled the party, with Quinn Tupaea scoring in the 68th minute, then replacement first-five Ioane crossing with the last play of the match.


Riccitelli opened the scoring in the ninth minute, then Blues flanker Sotutu and Chiefs prop Aidan Ross traded yellow cards and tries. Ross was binned offside in the 18th minute, with Sotutu scoring his first a minute later, then Sotutu spent time on the sideline after a late tackle on Damian McKenzie in the 36th minute, with Ross burrowing over two minutes later.


The Blues secured their 12th victory with tries from Tele'a, Sotutu and Ioane in a 20-minute span but could not hold out the pesky Chiefs.


In next weekend's quarterfinals, the Hurricanes will host the Rebels in Wellington, the Blues welcome the Drua to Eden Park, the Brumbies face the Highlanders in Canberra and the Chiefs entertain the Queensland Reds in Hamilton. Kick-off times have yet to be confirmed.


Hurricanes 41 (Salesi Rayasi 3, Du’Plessis Kirifi 2, TJ Perenara, Brayden Iose tries; Brett Cameron 3 con) Highlanders 14 (Matt Whaanga, Fabian Holland tries; Sam Gilbert 2 con). HT: 29-14


Blues 31 (Ricky Riccitelli, Hoskins Sotutu 2, Mark Telea, Akira Ioane tries; Harry Plummer 3 con) Chiefs 17 (Aidan Ross, Quinn Tupaea, Josh Ioane tries; Damian McKenzie con). HT: 12-7

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