The Waratahs recorded an emphatic 32-16 Super 14 win over the Hurricanes in Sydney on Friday that guaranteed them a semi-final spot.
The Waratahs recorded an emphatic 32-16 Super 14 victory over the Hurricanes in Sydney on Friday that guaranteed them a semi-final spot.
Chris Hickey's men needed to win to keep Australia's title hopes alive – and they didn't disappoint.
Drew Mitchell and Kurtley Beale were the stars of the show after scoring two tries each. The bonus point win took the Waratahs two points ahead of the Crusaders (on to 43) into second place, and assures they will avoid meeting the Bulls in Soweto next weekend.
But they are likely to slip back a place with the fourth-placed Stormers favourites to defeat an understrength Bulls side to steal the home semi-final.
It was a fourth straight win for the Waratahs over the side from New Zealand's capital, as they reached their fourth finals appearance in the last six years by staying undefeated at their Sydney fortress in 2010.
Phil Waugh's troops will carry loads of confidence and momentum into the play-offs after ruthlessly reducing the Hurricanes to a breeze.
It was also an anti-climatic end to Colin Cooper's reign as Hurricanes head coach, the Waratahs denying him the opportunity to plot for a sixth semi-final appearance in his eighth and final year in charge.
The hosts held an 18-9 advantage that proved deceptively close at the break. The Hurricanes have made a habit of conceding a half-time advantage, and had more opportunities in the second half but abrasive Waratahs tackling and poor handling conspired against a miraculous comeback.
Instead, the Waratahs backed up audacious attack with steely defence, denying the Hurricanes a five-pointer until replacement wing David Smith crossed in the 74th minute for a consolation score.
The Waratahs dominated the early exchanges but Piri Weepu's second penalty goal put the Hurricanes ahead 6-3 after 14 minutes. But their unlikely lead didn't last long as the hosts answered immediately when Beale celebrated his 50th Super Rugby match with the first try of the night.
Rob Horne made the original burst and found Tom Carter on his inside who picked out Beale. Beale then kicked ahead and won the race for the ball to score under the posts. Barnes made no mistake from in front for a 10-6 lead.
The Waratahs continued to hammer the Hurricanes line but Barnes' second penalty goal on the half-hour was all they had to show for their dominance as they initially struggled to transfer those advantages into points.
Flanker Ben Mowen was dragged down centimetres short as early as the eighth minute, Lachie Turner was denied by Ma'a Nonu at the end of the first quarter while Barnes also butchered a try when ignoring a two-man overlap.
The Hurricanes suffered a major blow when inspirational skipper Andrew Hore left the field with an elbow injury, and things went from bad to worse for the visitors when Mitchell crossed out wide on the back of a piece of individual brilliance from fellow winger Turner.
Having received the ball on his own 25m line, Turner kicked and regathered and jetted down field before picking out Mitchell with a pin-point 15m pass to push the lead to 18-6 with eight minutes left in the half.
Weepu had the final say of the opening stanza with a penalty goal after the siren to cut the deficit to nine points at the break.
It was a dream start to the second period for the hosts with tries to Mitchell (45th minute) and Beale (51st) setting up a commanding 23-point buffer.
Having absorbed plenty of punishment in the first half, the Hurricanes defence was lethargic and allowed Mitchell to cut the line. The Wallabies winger found Horne in support and was on hand when the centre delivered the final offload.
The try and subsequent conversion took the home side out to a 25-9 lead, and the way the Waratahs were firing, a fightback from the visitors seemed unlikely. The hosts had the better of possession and were winning the collisions, a battle that was made easier thanks to the tiring Hurricanes defence.
Another chip over the top eluded a seemingly well-placed Cory Jane as Beale collected his own kick to score. The bounce of the ball was favouring the Aussies, and the try ensured they claimed a bonus point.
With their season on the line, the Hurricanes launched their first sustained attacking raid of the match but a combination of poor execution and committed Waratahs defence kept the visitors tryless before Smith's late effort.
Man of the match: The Waratahs back three of Mitchell, Turner and Beale share this award after running the entire Hurricanes team ragged!
Tries: Beale 2, Mitchell 2
Cons: Barnes 3
Pens: Barnes 2
Pens: Weepu 3
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Tamati Ellison, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Michael Paterson, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Bryn Evans 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Scott Waldrom, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Jason Kawau/Willie Ripia, 22 David Smith.
Waratahs: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Patrick McCutcheon, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Dan Palmer.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Chris Thomson, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Daniel Halangahu, 22 Rory Sidey.