Rugby: Brumbies seal playoff spot

Clyde Rathbone of the Brumbies in action during the Super Rugby match between the Brumbies and the Force at Canberra Stadium. Photo / Getty Images
Clyde Rathbone of the Brumbies in action during the Super Rugby match between the Brumbies and the Force at Canberra Stadium. Photo / Getty Images

First-five Matt Toomua scored a hat-trick in a man-of-the-match performance to spark the Brumbies to a 47-25 win over the Force on Friday, sealing their place in the Super Rugby playoffs.

The Force missed out on their first playoff spot in their nine-year history.

Last year's beaten finalists, the Brumbies, won in the final round of the regular season for the first time in seven years, extending their winning run at home to seven games to propel themselves into the playoffs next weekend.

Friday's match began as a simple, sudden death contest between teams placed sixth and seventh on the championship ladder with the winner progressing to the playoffs and the loser ending their season.

Toomua returned to the starting lineup after an injury-enforced absence and his two first-half tries - his third double in his last four matches in Canberra - gave the Brumbies a 21-6 lead, almost putting the issue beyond doubt by halftime.

He also furnished superb passes which contributed to tries by fullback Jesse Mogg and winger Henry Speight.

Speight, who was in gangbusting form on the right wing, repaid the favour by providing the pass that led to Toomua's third try in the 55th minute, giving him the first hat-trick by a Brumbies player in 10 years.

Wallabies winger Joe Tomane, returning from a four-match injury break, provided the Brumbies' sixth try in the 68th minute and veteran Tom McVerry added the seventh, completing their biggest win of the season and sending them into the playoffs in high gear.

"To get a score like that in the final round when a spot in the finals is on the line is really pleasing," Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said. "I'm glad with the way the guys responded to the pressure.

"It didn't ever feel fully comfortable. We had to work pretty hard but it's a really pleasing result. Anytime you get a win against the Force its great, and with a bonus point it's even better."

From the start, Toomua was the brilliant architect of the Brumbies' attack, directing it against the weakest parts of the Force defence, timing his passes and his entries into the backline.

He had his first try in the sixth minute, showing enterprise to take a quickly tapped penalty near the right-hand touchline after a blockbusting run by Speight. He then turned up on the left flank several passes later to scorch through a gap and score.

His second try came in the 26th minute after a bust by lock Sam Carter. He saw a mismatch on the left side of the Brumbies' defence, where there were only tight forwards and the winger Nick Cummins, and he ran into a hole there to touch down.

Toomua created space with an accurate pass in the lead up to Mogg's try, which boosted the Brumbies' lead to 15 points at halftime. Prop Benn Alexander and winger Clyde Rathbone also played key roles in the try's buildup.

Speight then scored a superb try to start the second half, scorching down the right touch after being given space by passes from Toomua and Mogg. The winger then contributed to Toomua's third try.

Tomane swooped on a lost ball for the sixth try, and veteran McVerry notched his first Super Rugby try to end the scoring.

The Force battled gamely and scored tries through prop Pek Cowan, centre Chris Tuatara-Morrison and first-five Zack Holmes. Though they have missed the playoffs, they have had their best ever season with nine wins.

"It's been a great season for us," captain Matt Hodgson said. "We've learned how to win consistently.

"It's just now a matter of learning how to win those big games like tonight."

Brumbies 47 (Matt Toomua 3, Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Joe Tomane, Tom McVerry tries; Christian Leali'ifano 3 conversions, 2 penalties), Force 25 (Pek Cowan, Chris Tuatara-Morrison, Zack Holmes tries; Jayden Hayward conversion, 2 penalties, Sias Ebersohn conversion). HT: 21-6.

- AP

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