Stormers keep pressure on Chiefs
June 30, 2012
Retiring Western Force lock Nathan Sharpe embraces his son following his last appearance in Perth that ended with defeat at the hands of the Brumbies © Getty Images
The Chiefs booked their place in the Super Rugby play-offs with a 27-21 win over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday night.
Showing no ill-effects from the international break, the Chiefs flew out of the blocks and crossed the line after just one minute through Tim Nanai-Williams and added a further try before half-time through Robbie Robinson. Chris Noakes' boot kept the Highlanders in the mix with All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore going over early in the second-half. But Aaron Cruden, fresh from his impressive showing against Ireland last weekend, kept the Chiefs out in front with his boot with Hosea Gear crossing late on for the Highlanders to secure their losing bonus point.
Chiefs captain Craig Clarke acknowledged post-match that it is not easy to earn a victory down south, while he was pleased with the 'heart in defence' his side displayed. "It's very tough getting a victory down in Dunedin," he said. "What pleased me the most was probably the heart in defence towards the end when they were chasing the game."
The Stormers sit second in the overall standings and in control of the South African Conference following a 27-17 victory over the Lions in Cape Town. The match was in the balance in the early stages of the second half with the Lions, the basement side in this year's competition with just two victories, more than holding their with a try from No.8 Josh Strauss all but cancelling out an earlier effort from the Stormers' Gio Aplon. However, the title-chasing Stormers found another gear when it mattered most with replacement Jebb Sinclair and winger Gerhard van den Heever putting them on course for victory with Franco van der Merwe grabbing a late consolation for the visitors.
Young fly-half Zack Holmes scored 13 points as the Brumbies beat the Western Force 28-17 on Saturday to return to the top of the Australian Conference. Holmes secured his side's try bonus point with a score three minutes before the break as the Brumbies built a 22-0 lead. Fullback Jesse Mogg, prop Ben Alexander and winger Henry Speight also crossed for the visitors in a strong first-half display against a porous Force defence.
The Force hit back with two tries from winger Nick Cummins and one from Toby Lynn in the second half but Holmes landed two penalties - adding to his first-half try and conversion of Alexander's score - to confirm the Brumbies' win. Brumbies head coach Jake White was frustrated his side eased up in the second half, saying: ''I think we [were] slack, showed a bit of inexperience and probably thought we had done enough [to win the game]. It's a good lesson for us as a group, not only for this year but for every year."
The Bulls currently sit in the first wildcard spot thanks to a six-try 40-24 victory over the Cheetahs in Pretoria. The game was over as a contest by half-time with the hosts powering their way to a bonus point thanks to tries from No.8 Pierre Spies, prop Dean Greyling , fullback Zane Kirchner and scrum-half Francois Hougaard. Springboks fly-half Morne Steyn rediscovered some form with the boot to land three conversions and added a further two after the break as tries from prop Werner Kruger and winger Bjorn Basson carried the Bulls into a commanding 38-0 lead. Four tries in the last quarter from replacement WP Nel (2), fullback Willie Le Roux and flanker Heinrich Brussow added some gloss to the scoreboard but could not disguise the Cheetahs' shortcomings.
The Crusaders are next on the ladder despite slipping to a 23-22 defeat to the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Saturday. Tyler Bleyendaal's last-ditch penalty attempt dropped short to hand the visitors a priceless victory that keeps them in the hunt for a play-off place with just two rounds of the regular season remaining.
The Crusaders won a penalty on half way with seconds remaining and skipper Richie McCaw handed the ball to Bleyendaal, who had been on the pitch for just nine minutes, but the replacement fly-half's long-range effort fell well short. The hosts had led 22-17 with 15 minutes remaining but two penalties from Beaudan Barrett, to add to his penalty and two conversions earlier in the match, proved enough to edge a thrilling encounter.
All Blacks centre Conrad Smith was the standout player for the Hurricanes as he grabbed two tries to keep them in the game in the first half as Crusaders fly-half Tom Taylor kicked five penalties and converted Zac Guildford's scintillating try. After the game, victorious skipper Smith said: "That is pretty pleasing to beat this bunch after they put 40 on us at home. They are too good a side to let them play, you've got to get up and shut them down."
On Friday, the Reds eased past the Melbourne Rebels with a 32-17 win. The Reds stormed into a 24-3 lead at half-time thanks to tries from Chris Feauai-Sautia, a stunning team score from Dominic Shipperley and a score from Adam Wallace-Harrison. The Rebels rallied in the second-half, in what was Stirling Mortlock's last game at home for the Melbourne franchise, and chipped away at the Reds' lead with Kurtley Beale and Lachlan Mitchell going over. But the Reds secured the four-try bonus point through Nick Frisby's score.
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie was pleased with his side's performance despite their momentary lapse in concentration when the Rebels threatened to get back in the game. "There was a period of the game when we were just holding on but we actually defended pretty well," he said. "There was some pretty good and courageous last ditch defence but ideally we wouldn't have put ourselves in that position."
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