The Brumbies put the seal on winning the Australian conference with a 40-27 win over the Reds in a cold Canberra on Saturday.
The conference had already been decided before the game and with the Jaguares having sealed second place on the overall standings with a 52-10 demolition of the Sunwolves on Friday, the Brumbies had nothing to gain other than holding on the Rod MacQueen Cup.
And the six-tries-to-three victory was also a fitting way to celebrate being Australia’s only representative in the play-offs.
The Brumbies will stride into the Super Rugby play-offs on the back of their best winning streak in 12 years.
The Brumbies’ deadly rolling maul again caused the damage as Australia’s 2019 conference winners recovered from an early deficit to ride roughshod over the Reds.
In registering six straight victories for only the second time, the Brumbies secured a crucial home quarterfinal next Saturday in the nation’s capital.
Their opponents won’t be determined until two South African derbies are played later on Saturday.
Skipper Christian Lealiifano said the Brumbies would enter the play-offs brimming with belief.
“We’re pleased with the way we’re performing at the moment and the growth in the team has been nice,” Lealiifano said.
“So we’ve just got to continue to keep working hard and hopefully we’ve got another few more weeks to go.
“Hopefully it doesn’t matter who we get.”
The Reds led early through Bryce Hegarty’s converted try in the seventh minute, but paid the price for spending an hour playing a man down after hooker Taniela Tupou and veteran back-rower Scott Higginbotham were both issued yellow cards.
Tupou’s sin-binning proved a particular turning point.
Reds scrumhalf Matt McGahan thought he’d extended the visitors’ lead to at least 12-0, with a conversion to come, but his runaway intercept effort was overturned.
The television match official, in consultation with referee Paul Williams, deemed Tupou had caught Lealiifano high and “too forceful” in the lead-up.
Instead of enjoying a commanding lead, the Reds quickly found themselves trailing 19-10 at the break after Lachlan McCaffrey cashed in on the Brumbies’ first rolling maul before Higginbotham was marched for deliberately trying to pull down another in the shadow of half-time.
While Japan-bound Reds captain Samu Kerevi bowed out in losing fashion, the Brumbies celebrated Wallabies prop Scott Sio’s 100th Super Rugby game with further tries to Sam Carter and Tom Wright to blow the hosts’ lead out to 33-10.
Two late tries to the Reds were never going to be enough.
Man of the match: Bryce Hegarty and Samu Kerevi had their moments, but most of their best runs came after the Brumbies took their collective feet off the gas and cleaned the bench. Thomas Banks made well over 100 metres with his numerous carries, Tom Wright also carried well over 100 metres and had an intercept, while Christian Lealiifano did well to get up from a monster hit and directing the show. Tevita Kuridrani also got his team some much-needed go-forward. Lachlan McCaffrey got through a mountain of work, while Sam Carter was the physical presence the Brumbies required. Our award goes to Brumbies lock Rory Arnold, who carried well, won his line-outs, was among the leading players in the tackle counts and scored a try.
For the Brumbies:
Tries: Muirhead, McCaffrey, Penalty try, Arnold, Wright, Douglas
Cons: Lealiifano 3, Lonergan, penalty try does not require a conversion
For the Reds:
Tries: Hegarty, Paia’aua, Wright
Cons: Hegarty 3
Yellow cards: Taniela Tupou (Reds, 16 – foul play, high tackle), Scott Higginbotham (Reds, 40 – cynical foul, collapsing the maul illegally)
15 Tom Banks, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11
Tom Wright, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lachlan Mccaffrey,
7 Jahrome Brown, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan
Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Connal Mcinerney, 17 James Slipper, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Murray Douglas, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Ryan Lonergan, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Len Ikitau.
Reds: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Jock
Campbell, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (captain), 11 Filipo
Daugunu, 10 Matt McGahan, 9 Scott Malolua, 8 Angus Scott-Young, 7 Liam
Wright, 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Harry Hockings, 4 Izack Rodda, 3
Taniela Tupou, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 JP Smith.
Replacements: 16 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Gav Luka, 19 Caleb Timu, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Sefa Naivalu.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)