Brumbies batter Sharks to snatch last Super Rugby semi-final spot
A potent first half showing and strong finish from the Brumbies ended South Africa's play-off interests when they hammered the Sharks 38-13 in Canberra.
The pickings were slim from the hosts for stretches of the second half, but three tries in first 24 minutes were enough to end the game as a contest.
They added two late tries to embellish what was a complete play-off performance.
A strong beginning was followed by a period of defensive consolidation in the second half to tame the expected second wind from the Sharks.
With the energy sapped from the travellers, the late touchdowns confirmed the trip to Buenos Aires to face the Jaguares.
In essence, rugby justice was done as the top four teams from a log perspective made the semis. For the first time in four years, the SA teams will have to watch the play-offs from the comfort of their couches or bars.
At the end of the day, it's a fair reflection of the state of the SA franchises.
At no point did they look like teams who could dominate but for the Sharks, this was a desperately dire performance in a crucial game.
Robert du Preez's side were seen as SA's best title bet, but inconsistency, rumours of team disunity and a coach who struggled with criticism and favouritism towards his flyhalf son Robert crippled the team.
They never looked like a team that could fell the Brumbies, who've beaten all four SA teams this season.
The 24-6 half-time lead was a deserved one for the hosts. They scored an excellent try in the first minute of the game and controlled large parts of the first 40.
The Sharks, as is their wont when the coach's son Robert du Preez plays at first receiver, were wonderfully rudderless and devoid of any creative material.
The Brumbies, who now have the tough task of travelling across the Pacific Ocean to face first-time semi-finalists the Jaguares, who beat the Chiefs 21-16 yesterday morning, had lock Rory Arnold and eighthman Peter Samu to thank for their opening try.
Arnold, who also assisted in the second try, slipped in a deft inside pass for his team mate, who hared down-field 35m untouched for the early sucker-punch.
While Curwin Bosch, who was dreadfully kept away from the action by his selection at 15, landed a long range penalty in the ninth minute, the Brumbies landed another seven-point punch a minute later.
While Henry Speight was the recipient, hooker Folau Fainga'a's inside pass to fullback Tom Banks cut up the Sharks defence. Banks offloaded to the rangy Arnold, who passed to Speight.
Another Bosch penalty six minutes later narrowed the gap to 14-6 but Christian Lealiifano landed a 20th minute penalty to restore the 14-point gap.
Four minutes later, the Brumbies shifted from style to substance when Samu rumbled over from a rolling maul to give the Brumbies a 18-point buffer.
The Sharks asked better questions of the Brumbies physically in the second half.
However, they lacked the nous and the desire to dismember a driven Australian unit.
They did cross the whitewash through Andre Esterhuizen in the 57th minute but that was all she wrote.
Brumbies scrumhalf Joe Powell booked the plane tickets in the 72nd minute with Matt Lucas giving the travel agents the go-ahead to book accommodation with his try six minutes later.
Lucas's try came from another inside pass, summing up not only the Sharks disastrous defensive shape, but their overwhelmingly atrocious season.