The Brumbies get a chance to contradict Australia’s horrific record against New Zealand opposition after the controversial Super Rugby format handed them a home quarter-final against a team that accrued nine more points.
The Canberra-based side’s grinding 24-10 home win over the Western Force on Saturday assured the Brumbies (43 points) of the Australian conference title and a clash next Friday with defending champions the Highlanders (52).
The Brumbies completed a clean sweep of six victories over Australian teams through the season, but finished only seventh on the overall ladder.
NSW Waratahs (40), who started the final round level on points with the Brumbies, missed the finals, having picked up just one point from a 34-28 loss to the Blues in Auckland on Friday.
Teams from New Zealand filled four of the top six spots on the overall ladder and Kiwi sides could grab all four spots in next weekend’s semi-finals, as they play teams from other countries in the last eight.
The other three quarter-finals pit New Zealand sides against South African opposition.
On Saturday in Wellington, overall ladder leaders and New Zealand conference winners the Hurricanes (53 points) host the eight-placed Sharks (43), who clinched the one African group wildcard place.
The other quarter-finals will be fought out early Sunday (AEST) between the two African conference winners and two of the Australasian group wildcard teams.
Second-placed overall, the Lions (52) host seven-time champions the Crusaders (50) in Johannesburg followed by the Stormers (51) hosting the Chiefs (51) in Cape Town.
Australian teams won just three of 25 regular season fixtures against New Zealand sides and the Brumbies lost four out of five against Kiwi opponents.
Among those defeats was a 23-10 away loss to the Highlanders in late April.
“We’ve certainly reviewed that game and learnt from that,” Brumbies’ coach Stephen Larkham said.
“We’ve had our troubles with New Zealand teams but we’ll make sure that our preparation, like every week, is as good as it can be so that, one, we learn from those mistakes and two, give ourselves the best opportunity to play well.”
He hopes to have influential Wallabies flanker David Pocock back from a fractured eye socket which has sidelined him for almost six weeks.
Victory over the Force (13), who finished bottom of the Australasian conference and 16th out of 18 overall, qualified the Brumbies for a fourth consecutive playoffs campaign.
They topped the log of Australian teams for the first time since 2013, but will need to lift greatly against the Highlanders after failing to score against the Force in the second half.
The Waratahs led early against the Blues at Eden Park, but within five minutes of scoring each of their four tries, allowed the home team to notch a five-pointer of their own.
Among the Tahs tryscorers was outside centre Israel Folau, whose tally of 11 was two more the next best in the competition.
Melbourne (31) equalled their franchise-best effort of seven wins in a season with a 31-28 victory over the Reds (17) in Brisbane.
The Hurricanes entered the final round sitting fourth in New Zealand and seventh overall but zoomed up after chalking up a fifth straight victory with a 35-10 win over the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The Highlanders finished second in New Zealand ahead of the Chiefs following a 25-16 win over that side in Dunedin.
South Africa’s Lions blew their chance to finish top overall after their second-string side lost 34-22 in Buenos Aires to the Jaguares, who finished their inaugural Super campaign with four wins.
The Sharks secured a wildcard place ahead of the Bulls with a 40-29 win in Durban over Japan’s Sunwolves, who won just one game in their maiden season.
The Sunwolves finished on nine points, the same as the Kings, who won one more game, but lost 52-24 in Cape Town to the Stormers.