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Ben Smith (left), of the Highlanders is tackled by Lwazi Mvovo (right), of the Sharks during the Super Rugby quarter final match between the Otago Highlanders of New Zealand and the Cell C Sharks of Durban at the Growthpoint Kings Park Rugby Stadium in Durban
Brumbies beat Chiefs to reach Super Rugby semis Sharks edge Highlanders for semi-final spot

CANBERRA, Australia, July 19, (AP): The ACT Brumbies ensured the Super Rugby title will pass into new hands when they rallied after squandering a commanding lead to beat two-time defending champion the Chiefs 32-30 Saturday in a thrilling qualifying final. Flanker Jarrad Butler scored his first Super Rugby try in the 60th minute to give the Brumbies a winning margin, dethroning the Chiefs who trailed 22-3 after 28 minutes before recovering to draw level at 25-25, 14 minutes into the second half.

The Brumbies went ahead 32-25 with Butler’s try, converted by Christian Leali’ifano, before the Chiefs made one last desperate bid to save their title, scoring four minutes from fulltime through Gareth Anscombe. Aaron Cruden’s sideline conversion attempt, which could have forced the match to extra time, fell wide of the posts.
 
The Brumbies advanced to the semifinals for the eighth time in their history and will likely play Australian rivals and first-placed qualifiers the New South Wales Waratahs next weekend. The draw depends on the outcome of Saturday’s second qualifying final in Durban between the Sharks and Highlanders. Chiefs coach Dave Rennie warned before the match that the performance of referees would be crucial in the playoffs and he was proved correct as the decisions of South African referee Craig Joubert had an overwhelming influence on the outcome of Friday’s match. Joubert sin-binned Chiefs center Tim Nanai-Williams in the sixth minute. In his absence, the Brumbies scored two tries through scrumhalf Nic White and winger Robbie Coleman to take an early and decisive 14-3 lead.
 
They extended that lead to 19-3 with a 20th minute try to fullback Jesse Mogg, then to 22-3 with a 28th-minute penalty to Leali’ifano. Joubert’s decision to sin-bin Nanai-Williams for what he deemed a cynical foul fewer than five meters from the Chiefs’ goalline appeared mistaken but played a huge role in deciding the outcome of the match, forcing the defending champions to play catch-up rugby. The Chiefs scored a try through center Bundee Aki to cut the lead to 22-10 by halftime then, in turn, took advantage of a yellow card against the Brumbies to eradicate the remainder of the deficit during the third quarter. Joubert sin-binned winger Henry Speight, also for a professional foul, and as he languished in the sin-bin the Chiefs scored two tries to lock the match at 25-25 after 54 minutes. Scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow scored the first of those tries and, in a nice irony, Nanai-Williams scored the second to put his team on level terms. Butler then scored the decisive try when the Brumbies mounted a drive from a penalty and lineout and backs, including Mogg and flyhalf Matt Toomua, added their weight to hurl the maul over the goalline.
 
Leali’ifano’s conversion was the difference between the sides. The Chiefs threw themselves into a last, desperate attack and finally created the space from which replacement fullback Anscombe scored.
But they were forced to score wide out and Cruden wasn’t able to land the conversion which would have tied the scores. “It was always going to be close and we knew it was going to have to be a full, 80-minute performance,” Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said. “You don’t knock a side like the Chiefs over easily. “We’re very proud of that effort but you have to give a lot of credit to the Chiefs for what they’ve done over the last three years. It’s been an outstanding effort from them to be there.”
 
The Chiefs struggled to overcome their poor start and were left chasing the match. They missed 28 tackles in the first half and Speight, especially, took advantage and ran for more than 150 meters.
“It wasn’t the result we were after,” Chiefs captain Cruden said. “We started pretty slowly and couldn’t afford to give a quality side like the Brumbies a lead like that. “We showed a lot of character to peg it back but in playoff games you need to be clinical for 80 minutes. I think we created a lot of chances and the momentum kept swinging between the sides. “We had the Brumbies down in their 22 and were attacking well but they just seemed to have the desire on their line and they worked well for each other.”
 
Sharks 31, Highlanders 27
In Durban, South Africa, the Sharks used their superior forward power to see off a spirited challenge from the Otago Highlanders and advance to Super Rugby’s last four after a narrow 31-27 playoff win on Saturday. Two late penalties from Frans Steyn saw the South African side through at King’s Park after their forward strength was more than matched by the pace and handling skills of the New Zealand visitors. The Sharks reached their eighth Super Rugby semi-final after coming back from a 17-13 halftime deficit with both teams scoring three tries in an entertaining tussle. The South African franchise now play Canterbury Crusaders of New Zealand away in Christchurch on Saturday for a place in the final. The other semi-final pits the NSW Waratahs against the ACT Brumbies in an all-Australian affair in Sydney.

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