Waratahs edge Rebels as Blues blow late chances in Bulls draw

Melbourne (AFP) –


The NSW Waratahs kept their Super Rugby finals dream alive Friday by beating the Melbourne Rebels, but the Auckland Blues squandered a late penalty to all but end their chance of making the playoffs.

The Sydney-based Waratahs have been dominant against the Rebels in recent times, and their bruising 20-15 win in Melbourne was their sixth in-a-row over their arch-rivals.

It moved them up to 30 points in the Australian conference with two games to play, four behind the Rebels and Brumbies, who face the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday.

In Auckland, the Blues ground out a 22-22 draw with the Northern Bulls.

They were both desperate for a win but the result suits the Bulls better, lifting them to second in the South African conference behind the Jaguares, at least temporarily, on 34 points.

That puts them in the mix for a playoff berth, but the Blues still sit outside the overall top eight on 28 points and their dream of making the finals for the first time since 2011 is as good as dead.

"It was always going to be a grind, Aussie derbies are always super physical so it's hard to run away with a game," said Waratahs captain Michael Hooper.

"There were some big plays there, but we also put ourselves under some serious pressure. Was a quality game from both teams."

The Tahs got the opening points, with Adam Ashley-Cooper finishing a flowing backline move and Bernard Foley kicking the conversion.

A Quade Cooper penalty reduced the deficit, but it was quickly cancelled out by two penalty kicks by Foley after sloppy Rebels' errors.

The Waratahs had all the possession, but the home team settled down and in an intense period Curtis Rona made a try-saving tackle on the Rebels' Marika Koroibete, then Richard Hardwick and Cooper both had tries disallowed.

They went to the break with the 'Tahs 13-3 ahead, before the Rebels finally got a deserved reward nine minutes after the restart with Cooper dotting down.

Rona though quickly got another try for the visitors as the game heated up before Will Genia gathered an offload from Koroibete for a five-pointer to set up a nervy finish.

- Bittersweet -

In Auckland, each side scored three tries in a match that only sparked to life in the second half, when torrential rain at Eden Park finally eased.

"We're in a tough spot, we'll take this as a loss," Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said.

"We wanted a win with a bonus try but unfortunately couldn't do that. It's been a tough year, but we've improved a lot."

The Bulls entered the match as underdogs, having lost 11 of their last 12 matches on the Blues' home turf and missing key players in Duane Vermeulen and Handre Pollard.

Stand-in skipper Burger Odendaal said any points were welcome in a tight race for the finals.

"It's a bittersweet one," he said. "We really wanted to put it through tonight, but in the end we're basically happy with a draw."

Hanro Liebenberg scored the opening try when the Bulls patiently worked through 11 phases.

Auckland prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi got one back soon after, crashing over after a run from Akira Ioane to put the hosts 10-8 ahead at half-time.

Scott Scrafton extended the Blues' lead with a try before Bulls winger Cornal Hendricks made it 15-15 after chasing his own chip-kick down the sideline.

Tit-for-tat tries to Akira Ioane and Manie Libbok again levelled the scores with four minutes left, with the Blues missing a drop goal in the 79th minute then Harry Plummer sending a penalty kick wide after the siren to blow their chances of a win.