SYDNEY - The NSW Waratahs have soared to the top of the Super Rugby ladder and won the Australian conference with an emphatic 39-8 bonus-point win over the Brumbies.
But the Waratahs' club-record-equalling fifth straight victory came at a heavy cost on Saturday night, with captain Dave Dennis suffering a suspected season-ending knee injury.
Dennis was helped off ANZ Stadium with a reported torn anterior cruciate ligament after falling awkwardly on his right knee following a tackle on Brumbies winger Henry Speight in the 35th minute.
The former Wallabies flanker has already had two knee reconstructions and it would be a cruel blow if the 28-year-old was ruled out for the rest of the Waratahs' campaign to have a third operation.
The Waratahs are leading the competition with two rounds remaining and are assured of their first finals appearance in three years after putting the injury-ravaged Brumbies to the sword and then seeing the Western Force thumped 40-14 by the Blues.
But stand-in skipper Michael Hooper admitted Dennis's injury soured celebrations.
"It's horrible. Denno's been our leader from the front this year. You never like to see that," Hooper said.
"But the boys carried on and put it out there for Denno in the second half.
"We said we wanted to be top two at the start of the year and we're on track to do that."
Needing to win to retain control of their own finals destiny, the Brumbies entered the pivotal derby with 11 players, including six Wallabies, unavailable.
Their woes were compounded in the opening minutes when Test centre Tevita Kuridrani was forced off following a head knock.
Injuries, though, weren't the Brumbies' only concern, with their lineout a shambles.
Fourth-choice hooker Ruaidhri Murphy — a specialist prop — had four throws stolen in the first half alone and another after the break before being hooked.