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Retallick returns as Chiefs thump Rebels to book eighth straight playoff place

The Highlanders also pummelled the Waratahs to keep their hopes alive.

The Chiefs celebrate one of nine tries.
The Chiefs celebrate one of nine tries.
Image: AAP/PA Images

THE WAIKATO CHIEFS stormed into their eighth straight Super Rugby playoffs on Friday with a thumping win over the Melbourne Rebels, while the Otago Highlanders thrashed NSW Waratahs to keep their slim finals hopes alive.

Spearheaded by All Black Brodie Retallick, who returned from a wrist injury, the Chiefs needed a bonus point victory to book their place in the last eight and delivered emphatically, running in nine tries in a 59-8 hammering.

It guarantees them at least an eighth-place finish, which would mean a quarter-final away to the dominant Crusaders, but they could potentially move higher.

The Rebels have now leaked a massive 125 points in their last two outings after a 66-0 rout by the Crusaders last week to end their season on a demoralising note.

In Invercargill, the Highlanders pummelled the Waratahs 49-12, scoring seven tries to two in a match where both teams required a bonus point to have any chance of making the final eight.

Although it keeps them alive, results elsewhere need to fall their way.

The Chiefs bounced back from a poor start to the season to find form over the past month, with three wins in four matches to set them up for Friday’s do-or-die clash in Melbourne.

“We’re lucky enough to slip into the playoffs which we’re pretty excited about,” said skipper Sam Cane. “It’s a great feeling, especially as there were times during the season when we were unsure whether things would pan out.”

On a slippery surface, the Rebels suffered an early blow with Wallabies winger Marika Koroibete taking an elbow and playing no further part.

After he departed the Chiefs put the first points on the board with a superb 80-metre counter-attack finished by Cane.

They got a second when Quade Cooper’s attempted grubber kick was charged down by Shaun Stevenson who took a favourable bounce to run to the line.

A poor pass by Reece Hodge after the half-time hooter handed the Chiefs their third with Lachlan Boshier making the most of the error to send them into the break ahead 21-3.

The second stanza was electric from the Chiefs, who scored four tries — Sean Wainui, Anton Lienert-Brown, a second to Stevenson and Jack Debreczeni — in an opening 16 minute blitz.

Matt Philip pulled a try back, but further five-pointers to Marty McKenzie and Stevenson compounded their misery. Debreczeni kicked six conversions.

Source: SUPER RUGBY/YouTube

The result for the Highlanders was never in doubt after they seized control with a six-try blitz in the first half to stun the Waratahs, who rested five key Wallabies with their season already over bar a miracle.

“We knew we had to score some tries so we’ve done our part and at times played some really good footy,” said captain Luke Whitelock, whose team showed a class they have struggled to find this year.

The loss ended a difficult season for NSW, marred by the acrimonious mid-season departure of their best player Israel Folau over homophobic comments, which caused numerous off-field distractions.

Fullback Josh McKay made a perfect start for the Highlanders, sprinting in pursuit of his own kick and crossing the line.

Winger Tevita Li added another in the corner soon after and the hosts doggedly worked the ball through 19 phases for a third from Tom Franklin.

Waisake Naholo powered his way over for a fourth to make it 28-0 after 25 minutes.

A well-taken try for Alex Newsome finally put the Waratahs on the board but their joy was short-lived as the Highlanders were given a penalty try after Tom Robertson pulled down a lineout drive.

Tei Walden notched a sixth. Out-half Mack Mason added a second for the Waratahs but Rob Thompson had the final say for the Highlanders with a try in the last minute.

© – AFP 2019 

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