Waratahs eye Australia conference top spot - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Waratahs eye Australia conference top spot

By Darren Walton 01/05/2011 05:18:01 PM Comments (0)

The NSW Waratahs are plotting to seize on any further slip-ups from the Queensland Reds to secure a Super Rugby finals berth as Australian conference winners.

Queensland not only surrendered their outright competition lead to the Blues, but also had their domestic advantage over NSW cut to eight points with a final-minute 28-26 loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington.

A last-gasp penalty goal from Hurricanes flyhalf Aaron Cruden snapped the Reds' franchise-record seven-match winning streak and breathed fresh life into the Waratahs' playoff hopes.

The Waratahs (32) remain seventh overall after a 28-9 victory over the Melbourne Rebels, but just two points in arrears of the sixth-placed Sharks (34) after 11 weeks of the 18-round minor premiership.

NSW coach Chris Hickey is hoping his side can take full advantage of their run of three home games against the Rebels, Western Force and last-placed Lions before embarking on a two-match tour of South Africa.

"The next month is very important," Hickey said on Sunday.

"We've got two more home games plus four points for the bye (in a fortnight) and the Reds have still got some very tough games to come - including the Blues, Crusaders and Highlanders.

"We can't do anything to influence the Reds' results, but we need to take care of our own business and then see how the rest of the conference pans out."

The immediate focus is on the Force, who had their flickering finals hopes extinguished with an honourable home loss to the title favourite Crusaders at the weekend.

The 42-30 defeat left the Force three wins out of the top six with seven rounds remaining, but Hickey warned his Waratahs to be on guard on Saturday night.

"Sometimes when a team gets out of contention, a bit of pressure comes off and they relax and performances lift," he said.

"But we already understand we're in for a tough match."

The Blues (43) claimed the outright competition lead with a 15-10 win over the fifth-placed Highlanders (35) in Dunedin.

The Stormers (42) are breathing down their necks after trouncing the Sharks 32-12 in Cape Town.

The Sharks had the chance to go top of the South African conference but instead the Stormers romped to a four-try bonus-point triumph at Newlands.

The Crusaders (40) joined Queensland (40) in equal third position with their thrilling 42-30 victory over the Force in Perth.

The two-time defending champion Bulls (27) revived their hopes of a rare hat-trick of titles with a 34-27 comeback win over the Chiefs in Pretoria.

The Bulls remain eighth but only seven points adrift of the finals zone following the Sharks' defeat.

The Hurricanes (23) are ninth and still an outside chance following their last-minute escape against the Reds.

The Brumbies (22) continue to languish in 10th spot, albeit with a game in hand, following a deflating 46-37 loss to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

The Chiefs (21) are 11th, with the Force (20) equal 12th with the Cheetahs (20) after recording only their second win of the year.

The Rebels (19) are now only five points in front of the wooden spoon-bound Lions (14).

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