The rejuvenated Brumbies and Waratahs must cool their hot heels and cross their fingers for five weeks, with the thrilling conclusion to the Super Rugby Australian conference title race put on hold for the June Tests.
With three rounds remaining the two teams are level on points, with the Brumbies in first spot because they have notched one more win.
Both sides produced their most scintillating form of the season heading into the break for the Wallabies’ three-Test series with Six Nations Champions England.
Israel Folau surely ensured he starts at centre, not fullback, for the Wallabies in those Tests as he inspired the Waratahs to a sensational 45-25 win over the two-time champion Chiefs in Sydney on Friday night.
Folau terrorised the Chiefs with his elusive and powerful running and he and flanker and captain Michel Hooper each scored two of the Tahs’ six tries, as they temporarily moved five points clear at the top.
The Brumbies moved level on points the following night, running in 10 tries in a 66-5 bonus-point thrashing of Japan’s Sunwolves in Canberra.
Wallabies captain and hooker Stephen Moore scored a career-first try double and winger Nigel Ah Wong also crossed twice for the Brumbies, who hadn’t earned a bonus point since their round-one demolition of the Hurricanes.
“It’s a tough competition but it’s going to get even harder now with this break, the June Test period, and the last few games,” Brumbies and Wallabies back Christian Lealiifano said.
“The way the program is going to be managed is up to the coaches. We’ve just got to turn up and try build some momentum into the last few games.”
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham and his Waratahs counterpart Daryl Gibson will have every digit crossed, with 10 players from each of their respective franchises involved in the Wallabies preliminary squad chosen for the June Tests.
“My biggest concern is how we come out of that,” Gibson said.
Presently, the Tahs are four points back from the Highlanders, who occupy the lowest of the three Australasian group wildcard places, all of which are currently filled by Kiwi teams.
If that stays the same it means the only Australian team to make the finals will be the conference winner.
“It’s an arm wrestle now for all of us,” Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said.
“The Waratahs have an easier run home now than a couple of us Kiwi sides. So it makes it interesting.
With the Chiefs losing to the Tahs, the Crusaders moved to the top of the New Zealand conference with a 26-21 away win over the Blues.
The Hurricanes moved above the Highlanders in the NZ standings with a late try to flanker Ardie Savea securing a 27-20 home victory over the defending champions.
In South Africa, the Lions remain top of that group following a blazing seven-try 56-20 away win over the Bulls in Pretoria.
The Stormers regained leadership of the other South African conference and emerged from their recent form slump with a 31-24 home victory over the Cheetahs.
The Kings beat the Jaguares 29-22 in Port Elizabeth, where the Argentinian side had forwards Tomas Lavanini and prop Ramiro Herrera sent off.