Brumbies stay top after epic Reds battle

ACT Brumbies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano in action during a Super 15 match on April 27, 2012.  By Alexander Joe (AFP/File)

ACT Brumbies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano in action during a Super 15 match on April 27, 2012. By Alexander Joe (AFP/File)

SYDNEY (AFP) – The ACT Brumbies kept ahead of their great Super 15 rivals as the battle of the Australian titans finished all-square, but the lead changed hands in the New Zealand and South African conferences this weekend.

Jake White’s Brumbies fought off a determined Queensland Reds challenge in a tense 19-19 draw in Brisbane to preserve a two-point lead at the top of the Australian conference and in the overall Super Rugby standings.

The Reds laid siege to the Brumbies try-line in the final quarter of a sparky match and drew level with a try by flanker Liam Gill four minutes from time.

The Auckland Blues took over at the top of New Zealand conference without kicking a ball after defending champions Waikato Chiefs went down 25-20 to a late try by the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney.

The Blues leapfrogged the Chiefs after receiving four points from a weekend bye.

The Northern Bulls are the new South African conference leaders after a thumping 34-0 victory over the Southern Kings as previous leaders Coastal Sharks faltered 12-6 at home to the much-improved Central Cheetahs.

New Zealand outfits Wellington Hurricanes and Canterbury Crusaders kept in the playoff hunt with home wins this weekend.

The Hurricanes edged out Australia’s Western Force 22-16 in Wellington, while the seven-time champion Crusaders left the Otago Highlanders win-less in a 24-8 home triumph.

In the battle of the Australian giants in Brisbane, the Brumbies’ stoic defence earned them a share of the spoils against the Reds.

The Reds, winners in 2011, outscored the Canberra-based outfit three tries to one with the desperate Brumbies having two players, Christian Lealiifano and Scott Sio, sent to the sin bin in either half.

In Port Elizabeth, a couple of late tries gave the Bulls a bonus-point victory over the Kings in a lively South African derby.

The extra point was secured when Akona Ndungane put down the ball after the hooter and lifted the Pretoria-based side eight places to third on the southern hemisphere championship standings and top place in the South African conference.

A late Willie le Roux intercept try sealed victory for the Cheetahs over the Sharks.

After surrendering a five-game winning run at the Bulls last weekend, it was a welcome winning return for the Bloemfontein-based team, while it was the Sharks’ third defeat in five matches.

Replacement hooker John Ulugia scored a try with three minutes left to snatch victory for the Waratahs over the Chiefs.

The Chiefs had looked poised to win after fighting back from 15-0 down at half-time to lead 20-18 before Ulugia stormed over off a Bernard Foley pass.

The Waratahs’ win maintained Australia’s dominance over New Zealand teams in this season’s Super Rugby, winning seven of the nine intra-conference encounters.

The Hurricanes scored three tries to one but had to battle until the final whistle in Wellington as Jayden Hayward’s boot kept the Force in the game with three penalties.

The Crusaders returned to winning form and left the Highlanders’ season in tatters with a scrappy New Zealand southern derby win.

It was a much-needed, but far from convincing, win for the Christchurch-based team after their upset loss to the Force last week, the second consecutive defeat of their overseas tour.

The Melbourne Rebels and Western Stormers also had byes this weekend.