Reds remain in pole position
June 11, 2011
The crusaders' Kieran Read and Zac Guildford celebrate a score against the Blues in Timaru © Getty Images
The Reds cemented their place at the top of the Super Rugby standings with a last-gasp 24-21 victory over the Western Force in Perth.
Replacement winger Dom Shipperley grabbed the crucial try with just two minutes remaining in a pulsating clash at the NIB Stadium. Victory moved the Reds to 62 points and all but assured them of a top-two finish and home advantage throughout the play-offs.
The Force dominated the first half with centre Rory Sidey scoring two tries but the Reds stayed in the contest thanks to fly-half Quade Cooper and flanker Scott Higginbotham who both notched tries totally against the run of play. Force fullback James O'Connor, who had kicked an early penalty to open the scoring, slotted his second before the break to give his side a 16-14 lead as they headed to the tunnel.
The lead changed hands again early in the second half thanks to a Cooper penalty only for flanker David Pocock to cross in the corner midway through the half and delight the bumper home crowd. But the Reds rallied once more with Cooper finding Shipperley out wide for what proved to be the match-winning score.
The Crusaders avenged an opening round defeat with a 23-16 victory over the Blues in their crunch clash in Timaru on Saturday night. Two tries from winger Zac Guildford and another from flanker Matt Todd carried the hosts to victory and kept them in the hunt for a home semi-final. The Blues struck hard first with a Luke McAlister penalty followed by a brilliant try by winger Rene Ranger which put them 8-0 in front. The Crusaders' reply came first from a Dan Carter penalty from in front of the posts then Todd followed with his first try of the season. Carter's conversion put the Crusaders in front for the first time before the game lost two of its stars with the home side's Sonny Bill Williams and Ranger both injury victims. An exchange of penalties between Carter and McAlister saw the Crusaders take the breather 13-11 in front.
Crusaders skipper Kieran Reid pounced on a loose ball before feeding Guildford for an easy touch down at the start of the second half but the Blues fought back with outstanding prop Charlie Faumuina scoring. McAlister failed to tie the scores with the conversion and then he dropped the ball with the line wide open after good work by Munro. The Crusaders then struck with the decisive score when a pin point kick from Carter found Guildford who collected his fifth try of the season.
The Waratahs also remain in the hunt for the post-season following their 33-7 bonus point victory over the Highlanders in Sydney. Centre Tom Carter led the way with a hat-trick of tries but a lively display from fullback Kurtley Beale also helped to set the tone as the home side climbed into the wildcard places.
Carter got the ball rolling with the opening try and flanker Dave Dennis also crossed before Highlanders hooker Jason Rutledge forced his way over from close range - but that was as close as the visitors got. Carter crossed again before the break and Beale's conversion took them out to a 19-7 lead at half-time. Carter completed his hat-trick in the 73rd minute and there was still time for replacement Josh Holmes to get on the end of a cross-kick from Beale and notch his side's fifth try.
The Sharks are still alive after battling back to claim a 30-30 draw with the Lions in Johannesburg. A try from flanker Cobus Grobbelaar and the boot of in-form fly-half Butch James put the Lions in control at the break with Sharks No.10 Patrick Lambie keeping his side in touch.
Grobbelaar and James combined to take the hosts out to a 30-9 lead early in the second half but a yellow card for the Lions' playmaker proved to be a turning point. Lambie and winger JP Pietersen crossed to reduce the arrears before fellow speedster Lwazi Mvovo pounced with five minutes remaining. It was then left to the cool-headed Lambie to level the scores and ensure a share of the spoils.
Next up for the Sharks are the Bulls who kept their title defence alive with a narrow 19-16 victory over the Stormers in Cape Town. Two penalties from Bulls fly-half Morne Steyn and another from Stormers No.10 Kurt Coleman were the only scores of a tight first half and the kicking duel continued after the break with further scores for Steyn and Dewaldt Duvenhage.
Bulls scrum-half Francois Hougaard crossed for the first try of the game just past the hour mark but they were not able to shake off their hosts who battled back into the contest with a score from lock Andries Bekker. Duvenhage closed the gap to three points with two minutes remaining and it took a great try-saving tackle from Bulls winger Bjorn Basson to deny Stormers pace man Bryan Habana a try in the closing moments of the game.
The Brumbies ruined Danny Cipriani's return to the Super Rugby stage with a 32-17 victory over the Rebels in Canberra on Friday night. Matt Giteau was the architect, and had a hand in the first try of the game with a scoring pass to Christian Lealifano who ran in unopposed after just three minutes. The Brumbies stretched their lead when Tyrone Smith evaded Rebels winger Cooper Vuna and some quick thinking from the ever-influential Giteau extended his side's advantage before the break with a quick tap catching their rivals asleep. A deft sidestep from Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore put Pat McCabe in for a score after the break. But the Rebels rallied with Jarrod Saffy crashing over just past the hour mark. Afusipa Taumoepeau added another Rebels' try but the Brumbies reasserted their dominance through Moore.
Elsewhere, the battle of the second choice All Black fly-halves ended in a 18-18 draw in Waikato on Friday night. The Chiefs' Stephen Donald and the Hurricanes' Aaron Cruden were on opposing sides in a high pressure draw played out in wet condition at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton. Departing Hurricanes hooker Andrew Hore sent a message to the management by crashing over in the first-half while Ma'a Nonu remained influential throughout, no more so than when his break put Hosea Gear over the line just one minute into the second-half.
This proved to be the sole try of the second 40 minutes and only Donald and Cruden troubled the scoreboard with Donald adding one penalty and Cruden two. The game looked poised for a thrilling finish, but with poor weather preventing any continuity, neither side could get the all important three points.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor