Brumbies keep finals hopes alive
May 8, 2010
Brumbies flanker Rocky Elsom opened the scoring in Canberra © Getty Images
George Smith secured a winning send-off in his final home game for the Brumbies, helping his side to a bonus point 31-3 victory over the Highlanders on Saturday. Fly-half Matt Toomua pounced for the fourth try with time running out to launch the Brumbies back into play-off contention in fourth place prior to next weekend's meeting with the Crusaders.
Smith, capped 110 times by Australia, returned from a shoulder injury just in time to bid farewell to the Brumbies faithful before moving on to pastures new, but the news was not so good for Strirling Mortlock, whose back injury ended his chances of a final game in Canberra before joining the Rebels.
Wallabies skipper Rocky Elsom opened the scoring with a powerful try. The blindside plucked the ball from the air at the tail of the lineout before swivelling past two tacklers to crash over. Salesi Ma'afu struck a blow for the front-row union minutes later with the Brumbies' second, his dive for the line rounding off a brilliant dummy from his skipper Stephen Hoiles and in instinctive dart from centre Matt Giteau.
The home side were under pressure for much of the remainder of the first-half but showed admirable grit in defence, denying Highlanders lock Josh Bekhuis a certain try in the corner through a last-ditch Adam Ashley-Cooper tackle. Giteau extended the Brumbies' lead with a penalty, a score which was cancelled out just before the break by the boot of Israel Dagg.
The Brumbies struck first in the second-half thanks to a moment of magic from Toomua, who carved through a tiny gap before offloading to Ben Alexander. Giteau provided support and after the Wallaby was hauled to earth Josh Valentine was on hand to take a scoring offload under the posts. The Brumbies huffed and puffed for the remainder of the half, with Toomua popping up with moments remaining to seal the five points following a patient drive from the pack.
The Stormers suffered a 20-14 defeat at the hands of the Sharks in Durban in Saturday's evening kick-off but remain on course for a home semi-final in the play-offs after picking up a losing bonus point thanks to a late try from Francois Louw. The Sharks had nothing but pride to play for but pride is a powerful motivator in South African derbies and an inspired home side racked up 14 unanswered points in the first half with tries from Odwa Ndungane and Ruan Pienaar.
Stormers fly-half Peter Grant halved his side's deficit when he converted his own try early in the second half but Pienaar's boot kept the visitors at arm's length and, in the end, the men from Cape Town were grateful to Louw for his 77th-minute bonus point-clinching touchdown. The Stormers arrived in the knowledge that a bonus-point win in the Shark tank would guarantee them second place but they found themselves seven points down after just six minutes of play, Ndungane sliding over in the right corner after an incisive attacking move from the hosts.
They Sharks struck again right on the stroke of half-time. Pienaar was the scorer and, in effect, its creator. However, Sireli Naqelevuki played the most important role in the try, the winger inexplicably failing to the deal with Pienaar's seemingly harmless chip forward, thus allowing the South Africa international, back in his favoured position of fly-half, to gather the loose ball and score. The Stormers needed a boost and they received a timely one just four minutes into the second period, Grant showing a nice turn of pace and some neat footwork as he stepped inside to score following some good work from Dewaldt Duvenhage and Tim Whitehead.
However, they never truly looked capable of turning the game around and Pienaar put ten points between the sides with a 66th-minute penalty. The Springbok fly-half struck again with four minutes remaining to put the outcome beyond all doubt, but the Stormers did at least salvage a point when Louw burrowed his way over in the dying seconds after a quick tap.
The Waratahs catapulted themselves into the top four with a 46-19 bonus point thrashing of the Chiefs in Hamilton earlier in the day. With the Reds and Crusaders already losing above them on the table this round, the Waratahs went into third place with one match remaining as a sloppy Chiefs outfit put up little resistance to end with a miserable record at Waikato Stadium this season.
Drew Mitchell got the visitors on their way with a brilliant individual try in the opening minutes, bursting through the line and chipping ahead for himself. Chiefs fly-half Callum Bruce then sent a clearing kick barely a metre off the side of his shin, leading to a try for Waratahs No.8 Ben Mowen a few phases later.
The Chiefs missed a tackle every two minutes in an ill-disciplined performance, highlighted in the first half when prop Nathan White thew a flurry of punches at opposite number Al Baxter. He was lucky to stay on the field but another penalty let the Waratahs drive over from a lineout for hooker Tatafu Polotta-Nau to score.
Waratahs' fly-half Berrick Barnes scored a runaway intercept try in the first minute of the second half but the Chiefs didn't let their heads drop and fought their way to their own five-pointer, scored by Tim Nanai-Williams after some sustained pressure. But Tahs fullback Kurtley Beale got on the end of a perfect Barnes grubber and then turned provider for wing Lachie Turner with a line break and kicked assist to put the match beyond all doubt. Chiefs centre Jackson Willison crossed twice for a consolation double to please the fans but it was too little too late for the match and the season. Damien Fitzpatrick had the final say for the Waratahs with their seventh try in the last minute.
A stunning second-half blitz gave the Hurricanes a 44-21 win that kept alive the Wellington outfit's Super 14 play-off hopes while severely denting the Reds' finals dream on Friday night.
A Hosea Gear hat-trick helped the Hurricanes leapfrog the Reds into the top four as the hosts laid on 31 unanswered points in the second half. Both teams elected to attack at every opportunity but ultimately the Reds' failure to get even a bonus point out of the match could mark a disappointing end to a glittering campaign.
The Hurricanes launched out of the blocks as Gear tip-toed down the left touchline before feeding it inside for Cory Jane to cross, and Piri Weepu's penalty created an early 8-0 lead.
Quade Cooper and Will Genia then showed why they have been hailed as the competition's premier 9-10 partnership to set up a try for Scott Higginbotham. Cooper took a midfield bomb in an overhead Aussie Rules style and Genia then launched a scything run through the defence and showed great vision to spot the flanker's run up the inside.
Exciting tries to speedy back Rod Davies and Will Chambers followed as Genia and Cooper helped the Reds cut the Hurricanes' line to shreds, but Gear and Jane continued their own double act after the half time siren, Gear crossing this time from Jane's assist to make it 21-13 at the break.
A yellow card to Reds flanker Andrew Shaw 30 seconds into the second half saw the Hurricanes regain the lead with two tries during their one-man advantage. First Gear grabbed his second after the Reds had defended resolutely on their line and then failed to kick clear, and then Tamati Ellison got on the end of a nice move involving Jane that came after a Michael Paterson intercept.
The home side's momentum continued as Gear completed his hat-trick down the Reds' problematic right-hand-side and a Weepu penalty with 11 minutes remaining took the lead beyond the crucial 14-point mark. The Reds kept attacking in search of a crucial four-try bonus point but only went backwards, and David Smith scored with an assist from Weepu that helped the scrum-half stake a serious claim for the All Blacks' No.9 jersey.
The hapless Lions suffered the ignominy of becoming the first side to lose 13 consecutive Super 14 games, and the first to ship 500 points in a season, as they slumped to a dismal 56-14 defeat at the hands of the Blues in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon.
The Blues need less than four minutes to break the deadlock, Benson Stanley scything through the Lions defence before putting Rene Ranger through to score. Stephen Brett, a late addition to the visitors' starting line-up, added the extras and then crossed himself just ten minutes later, finishing off a spell of incessant Blues pressure.
Brett converted once more and stroked over a penalty just before the half hour to put 17 points between the sides. Things were looking ominous for the Lions but Spencer provided them with a lifeline when he touched down after a sweeping attack which had been sparked by a terrific break from Tonderai Chavhanga from inside his own 22.
The Blues hit back through Alby Mathewson, who took advantage of some woefully static Lions defending to cruise over, but Spencer had not gone away and he kept his side in touch with a second try just before the break.
However, Brett stroked over a penalty just after restart and the Blues secured the bonus point when Paul Williams blazed through to score in the 48th minute. Brett's conversion stretched the visitors' lead to 20 points, meaning if the Lions were to have any hope of turning the game around Spencer was again going to have produce something special - and fast. However, his next significant contribution to the game was a sly trip on an opponent which earned the former All Blacks fly-half ten minutes in the bin. The Blues immediately capitalised on their numerical advantage, sending Tom McCartney over for their fifth try of the game.
The Lions had been reduced to an all-too-familiar state of disarray and Joe Rokocoko too full advantage, helping himself to two tries in the space of four minutes, putting the seal on what was a comprehensive victory for the visitors.
The Cheetahs moved above the Western Force and into 11th place in the standings with a bonus point-clinching 29-14 victory over their fellow strugglers in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.
The game was as good as over at half-time, with the Free Staters helping themselves into a 26-7 lead after early tries from half-back duo Naas Olivier and Sarel Pretorius had been complemented by a brace from Bjorn Basson in the 15 minutes preceding the break.
The Force, who managed just one try of their own in the fist half, though Ryan Cross, proved far more competitive after the restart but Matt Hodgson's 73rd-minute try proved little more than a consolation score.
The visitors had certainly played their part in their own downfall, gifting the Cheetahs a try with less than 60 seconds on the clock, Pretorius putting Olivier away to score after David Hill had spilled the ball with the Force on the offensive.
The Cheetahs pulled further clear just over ten minutes later when Pretorius caught Justin Turner napping and pilfered the ball from the young scrum-half for a gloriously opportunistic try.
The Force hit back through Cross midway through the first half when the Wallaby centre darted over from close range but the Cheetahs posted a swift response through Basson, who dived over after claiming a booming kick from Olivier. Basson struck again in the dying seconds of the half, this time after forcing the covering Nathan Charles into coughing up possession of the ball.
The bonus point in the bag, the Cheetahs showed little enthusiasm for the second half and the game rather petered out as a result. Indeed, it had long since lost its early intensity by the time Hodgson barged his way over in the closing stages.