Home advantage pays off in Super Rugby playoffs
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The power of home advantage in Super Rugby playoff matches was emphasized again over the weekend as all four home teams advanced to the semifinals.
Defending champions the Crusaders beat the Dunedin-based Highlanders 38-14 in Christchurch, the Hurricanes beat the Pretoria-based Bulls 35-28 in Wellington, Argentina’s Jaguares beat the Hamilton-based Chiefs 21-16 in Buenos Aires, and the ACT Brumbies beat the Durban-based 38-13 in Canberra.
The Hurricanes will now travel to Christchurch where they will attempt to stop the Crusaders’ seemingly inexorable progress to their 10th Super Rugby title, their third in consecutive years.
The Brumbies face a similarly difficult task, traveling to Buenos Aires where the Jaguares will host a semifinal for the first time in their four-year history.
The Jaguares have won seven of nine matches at home this season and extended their late-season winning streak to six matches with Saturday’s win over the Chiefs.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar is undaunted by the travel challenge facing his team in Buenos Aires.
“It has its challenges but we love getting on the road,” McKellar said. “The boys just enjoy each other’s company and love being around each other.”
“We’ve always toured well so we won’t be looking at the travel as a negative or something that’s going to be an excuse. You’ve got to embrace it.”
The Jaguares had already made history by hosting a quarterfinal for the first time on Friday. They again showed polish and well-honed teamwork to hold out the Chiefs, rallying from 16-8 down in the second half to clinch their 12th win of the season.
But the Crusaders continue to loom over the competition as likely champions after Friday’s comprehensive win over the Highlanders. The Crusaders led by three points, 17-14, at halftime as the Highlanders scrambled on attack and defense.
But the home side ran away with the match with three converted tries in the second half, two when Highlanders flanker Liam Squire was in the sinbin. Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga scored two tries and kicked five goals from five attempts for 20 points.
The Hurricanes, champions in 2016, now inherit the task of trying to stop a Crusaders team which has lost only once in the last two years and seems headed for a third-straight title.
There were no apparent chinks in the Crusaders’ armor on Friday; their forward pack was formidable, dominating scrums and creating tries from lineout drives. Mo’unga expertly led the backline.
Hurricanes coach John Plumtree is also taking a positive view of the challenge of winning away from home.
“We’ve been down there (Christchurch) a lot this time of year and come away with nothing, so we need to really dig deep next week,” Plumtree said. “I don’t think they’ve lost down there for the last 26, 27 times. That’s pretty amazing. The pressure will be on them and we can just go down there and have a real crack.”
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