Hurricanes book semi-final slot
May 16, 2009
Hurricanes wing Tamati Ellison challenges with Rod Davies of the Reds for a high ball © Getty Images
The Super 14 semi-final line-up has been determined, with the Bulls topping the table and hosting the Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld next weekend and the Chiefs and Hurricanes fighting it out to guarantee a New Zealand presence in the final.
The Hurricanes subdued a brave Queensland Reds 37-28 in Brisbane to book their place in the Super 14 semi-finals. Their win also knocked the Waratahs out of play-off contention, meaning that there are no Australian sides featuring in the semi-finals.
The Hurricanes hurled the ball around early on as they raced in three tries in the opening quarter to lead 17-0. Ma'a Nonu got two tries early, his first in just the sixth minute when he strolled onto a Cory Jane short ball with barely a hand laid on him. Flanker Victor Vito was a huge presence on attack, clutching the ball in one hand and setting up the Hurricanes' next two tries.
His 40 metre rampage from inside his own half set up scrum-half Piri Weepu, then he delivered the final pass for Nonu's second after Jane pierced the Reds' defence from an inside ball. Jane then scored from a simple overlap and the Hurricanes had the bonus point in the 33rd minute.
But the Reds - who welcomed back key men James Horwill and Berrick Barnes from injury - took the Hurricanes on at their own high octane game, scoring quick tries to Quade Cooper and halfback Ben Lucas to narrow the gap to 24-14 at halftime. The Hurricanes needed to strike early in the second half and it took them just two minutes before lock Jeremy Thrush strolled over for their fifth try.
Reds fullback Mark McLinden was next to score but despite a late intercept to Reds winger Brando Va'aulu the Hurricanes were able to hang on.
The Crusaders' Super 14 title defence is still alive after a 15-13 defeat of the Blues in Auckland.
In a disappointing spectacle with a dramatic finale, departing veteran Leon MacDonald landed a dropped goal four minutes from fulltime to leave the Crusaders with hope of an eighth successive appearance in the semi-finals.
The Crusaders never came close to securing the bonus point for four tries they needed to guarantee a play-off berth, instead settling for another of the tight, low-scoring wins that has marked their campaign. Their best player was veteran All Blacks fullback MacDonald, in his 121st and possibly last Super rugby game. As well as his match-winning goal from 25m out, he landed four penalties from six attempts.
The game was a penalty-kicking duel between MacDonald and Blues first five-eighth Jimmy Gopperth, also leaving New Zealand rugby having signed with English club Newcastle. Gopperth kicked two penalties and converted the game's only try, to second five-eighth Isaia Toeava with 8min remaining that put the hosts 13-12 up and threatened to end the Crusaders campaign.
The Chiefs edged out the Brumbies 10-7 at the Waikato Stadium on Friday to book themselves a crucial home semi-final in the competition for just the second time in their history .
In a tight game, with the Brumbies desperate for a win and compounded by wet conditions, the game never promised to be a spectacle. Both teams started cautiously in Hamilton and missed kickable penalty chances midway through the half, but Brumbies wing Francis Fainifo finally opened the scoring after 33 minutes when he made the most of some lazy defence from Chiefs winger Lelia Masaga.
Brumbies fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper fended off Sweeney and weighted a kick for the line, Masaga dithered in clearing the danger and Fainifo dived for the ball to dot down. Masaga though redeemed himself just two minutes later though when he latched on to a Muliaina pass and set up quick second phase ball just metres out from the line for Donald to dive over. Donald converted his score which left the the scores level, 7-7 at halftime.
As the rain returned in the second half and with neither team willing to take too many risks with so much at stake, both teams opted rather to play for field position. The Chiefs finally got their reward with just over 10 minutes to go when Huia Edmonds was yellow-carded for infringing at a ruck and Donald gave the Chiefs breathing room by slotting the penalty.
As the clock wound down, the Brumbies finally got their hands on some ball, and forced a penalty on halfway. However, fly-half Matt Toomua's kick for the line proved disastrous as he missed touch and the Chiefs celebrated a hard-earned win.
In the round's second game, the Waratahs came from behind to secure a narrow 38-33 victory over the Lions in Johannesburg, but their efforts were in vain.
The visitors scored four first half tries through Lachlan Turner, Dean Mumm, Phil Waugh, and Peter Playford to take a commanding lead at the break, however it took a try five minutes from full-time from Tom Carter to wrap up the win.
As the clock wound down the Lions were not deterred and looked to have crossed just seconds before the siren however referee Marius Jonker ruled the pass to Deon van Rensburg forward, breaking the hearts of the home crowd.
The Waratahs' third successive win on their current tour of South Africa also ended the Brumbies' hopes of making the post-season.
In a dead-rubber match on Saturday Western Force survived a dramatic late fightback at Subiaco Oval, seeing off the challenge of Jimmy Cowan's Highlanders 33-28. The Force had raced in to a 23-0 half-time lead in their final game at Subiaco, with Ryan Cross scoring their first try with not a minute elapsed on the clock.
Scott Staniforth scored the second for the Force before adding another to cap a memorable farewell as he heads for Japan at the end of the season. After half-time, the visitors came back to life. Winger Ben Smith bagged a try immediately after the break to start the ball rolling before Force wing Haig Sare grabbed his side's bonus-point effort.
The Highlanders continued to press, with Smith grabbing a second try and further scores from Tom Donnelley and skipper Cowan securing two losing bonus points for the New Zealanders.
In Bloemfontein the Stormers finished a disappointing season on a positive note with a 28-22 victory over the Cheetahs. The Cheetahs took an early lead through a try from scrum-half Sarel Pretorius, converted by fly-half Naas Oliver. Their lead lasted 10 minutes before Stormers centre Dylan des Fountain crossed, with Willem de Waal landing the conversion and adding a penalty before half-time.
In the second period Rassie Erasmus' Stormers pulled clear thanks to two tries from fullback Joe Pietersen, his first coming only moments after the resumption. The Cheetahs mounted a late charge with tries from replacement lock Nico Breedt and his second-row partner David de Villiers, but it was too little too late for this season's basement side.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter