The Brumbies are reeling with a devastating series of results robbing them of a Super Rugby finals berth after leading the Australian conference for all but the last day of the season.
The Brumbies were knocked out of the top six with the Queensland Reds, Sharks and Bulls all pulling off last-round bonus-point wins after the ACT franchise opened the door by stumbling against the lowly Blues.
The Aucklanders scored a shock 30-16 win in Canberra when the Brumbies only needed to lose by less than seven to book a first play-off spot since 2004.
The team guided by 2007 World Cup-winning South Africa coach Jake White finished equal on points with the Reds (58) but gave up top spot on the national conference because Queensland won more matches, 11 to 10.
The Bulls ultimately left the Brumbies heart-broken by defeating fellow South Africans the Lions 37-20 in chilly Pretoria on Sunday morning (AEST), after being held to 20-all at halftime.
The Sharks had earlier jumped into the top six with a come-from-behind 34-15 win over the Cheetahs in Durban, scoring four second-half tries after trailing 15-6.
Defending champions Queensland will now host the Sharks at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night while the Bulls make the longer trip to Christchurch to play the Crusaders, who beat the Western Force 38-24 on Saturday.
The Reds will sweat on the fate of playmaker Quade Cooper who will face a SANZAR disciplinary hearing on Sunday after being cited for a high tackle on the Waratahs’ Berrick Barnes.
The table-topping Stormers, who sealed top spot with a 26-21 win over the Melbourne Rebels, and runners-up the Chiefs receive byes into the semi-finals and will enjoy home advantage in Cape Town and Hamilton respectively.
While the Brumbies were the hard-luck story of the weekend, the Lions are just as sad after they finished bottom of the table with a 3-13 record to now be facing exclusion from the competition next year.
South African Rugby Union (SARU) officials promised early this year to give one of the five places reserved for the country in the 2013 Super Rugby competition to the Eastern Cape-based Southern Kings at the expense of the team finishing last.
So unless the Lions merge with another franchise – they did combine with the Cheetahs from Bloemfontein in the past – they face a bleak future with the suspension of coach John Mitchell an additional problem.
Lions did win twice under caretaker coaches Johan Ackermann and former All Blacks fly-half Carlos Spencer and there was a hint of a surprise against the Bulls when they fought back to be level at 20-20 going into the break.
But the Bulls were more clinical after half-time and tries by scrum-half Francois Hougaard and flanker Jacques Potgieter within eight minutes of the restart gave the home team a decisive 34-20 advantage.