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Australia shut out of semis

SOUTH Africa's Bulls headed three New Zealand teams in reaching the Super 14 semifinals after an extraordinary end to the regular season.

The Bulls, champions two years ago, finished top by a single point after a nail-biting 27-26 win over the Sharks in Durban.

A loss would have seen them drop back to third but by finishing top, the Bulls will host the semifinal, and the final, should they make it.

Their semifinal opponent in Pretoria on Saturday will be the Canterbury Crusaders after the defending champions snuck into fourth place with a last-gasp 15-13 win over the Blues in Auckland.

The Waikato Chiefs finished second after beating Australia's ACT Brumbies 10-7 in Hamilton to secure the home-ground advantage for their semifinal against the Wellington Hurricanes on Friday.

The Hurricanes beat Australia's Queensland Reds 37-28 in Brisbane to claim third place, providing them with their fifth semifinal appearance in the past seven seasons.

Australia will be without a team in the semifinals after their best hope, the New South Wales Waratahs, finished level with the Crusaders but just missed out on percentages despite beating the Lions 38-33 in their last match.

Seven of the 14 teams were still in contention for the playoffs heading into the final round but the order did not change after the top four sides all managed wins.

The Sharks needed to beat the Bulls and claim a bonus point to sneak into the finals but came up just short, scoring the four tries they needed for the bonus, but going down by a point to finish sixth.

The Chiefs, whose only previous appearance in the semifinals was in 2004, were also given a torrid workout by a Brumbies side that had a mathematical chance of reaching the playoffs but ended up seventh.

The Brumbies, champions in 2001 and 2004, led 7-0 just before halftime and the Chiefs did not take the lead until 12 minutes from the end when flyhalf Stephen Donald, who scored all his team's points for the second week in a row, landed a penalty to break the deadlock.

The Crusaders cut it even finer to keep alive their title defense, with Leon MacDonald potting a drop goal four minutes from full-time to seal the win.


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