Illawarra rugby premiers University had two players sin-binned and skipper Paul Tuala sent off but stormed home to beat Bowral 31-22 at Eridge Park.
The Bulls were down to 14 players for most of the second half and trailed 22-17 with just five minutes remaining before Jonathon Lally and substitute Jonah Potgieter-Denton scored tries in a hugely significant win in the semi-final context.
With just two more rounds of the regular season remaining, University began round 16 clinging to fourth spot but opened an eight point lead over fifth-placed Shamrocks, who were thrashed 46-28 by unbeaten Avondale at Gerry Cappetta Oval.
Uni led the third-placed Blacks 17-7 at halftime but had two players binned plus Tuala sent off for an alleged high tackle in the second half.
It was backs to the wall for the premiers according to coach Evan Poata-Smith.
‘’For about 30 minutes there we had only 14 players. It was one thing, then the next and they made the most of it. But the difference this week than for a few games recently was our commitment in defence.
‘’The intensity and desire was right up and it showed it those final few minutes when we scored two tries. It’s a huge win in our bid to make the semis.
‘’We needed a big effort today and got it. We scored five tries as well and picked up the bonus point so I’m really proud of the guys and how they went about it.’’
Meanwhile, matters go from bad to worse for Shamrocks who were blown away by Avondale in the first half en-route to a 46-28 belting.
Wombats ran riot in the first 40 minutes scoring six tries to one to show the gulf between a premiership contender and mid-table side.
Taiti-Taanoa, Tuumuliileuao, Blake Spencer and Mani Tuigamala scored a double for Wombats who need only to beat bottom side Camden and Tech Waratahs in the final two rounds to complete the major achievement of an unbeaten 18 round premiership season.
In other round 16 games, Daniel Bunton scored three tries as Vikings overcame a determined Tech-Tahs 26-10 at Saunders Oval.
Vikings picked up the bonus point and sealed a top two spot with the victory, plus Bowral’s defeat to Uni.
Campbelltown have almost certainly erased their fear of finishing wooden-spooners following a 26-22 win over Shoalhaven, which ended Shoalies slim top four hopes.
Ian Flaxman, Stewart Campbell, Ash Hanthorn and Greg Dunn scored tries for Harlequins who led 19-10 at halftime.
It has been a tough season for Kiama, but an even tougher one for Camden after they were beaten 28-19 by the Cows at Kiama Showground.