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Struggling Reds punished in Perth
ESPNscrum Staff
March 31, 2012
James Horwill leads his dejected Reds side from the field, Western Force v Reds, Super Rugby, NIB Stadium, Perth, Australia, March 31, 2012
Reds skipper James Horwill leads his side from the field © Getty Images
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The Reds' slide into mediocrity continued in Perth on Saturday, where they were routed 45-19 by the Western Force.

The reigning champions - who shipped 60 points to the Bulls last weekend - became the first side to concede a try bonus point to the Force at NIB Stadium, with any hopes of retaining their title now balanced on a knife-edge.

The Force were good value for their win and brought plenty of exuberance to the table, scoring five tries off the back of a dominant performance by their pack. James Stannard and Nathan Sharpe crossed to give them a healthy lead at the break, with the Reds mustering a try out wide to James Slipper to trail 21-5.

Ben Seymour, on as a replacement for the injured Stannard, put the game to bed by rounding off an interception immediately after the break, with Samu Wara and Matt Hodgson scoring late on to cancel out consolation efforts from Van Humphries and Dom Shipperley.

After smashing the Reds last weekend, the Bulls came up agonisingly short at Newlands, where the Stormers pulled through 20-17 to move clear at the top of the South African conference.

Fly-half Peter Grant - recently returned after a sabbatical in Japan - kicked a 77th-minute penalty to seal victory for the hosts, with Joe Pietersen having earlier slotted four kicks to complement a try from hooker Tiaan Liebenberg.

The Bulls rallied from 14-0 down to take the game to the wire and did much of their damage while down to 14 men. With lock Flip van der Merwe in the bin for a lineout offence, Bjorn Basson fashioned a try and Morne Steyn landed the extras and a penalty. Wynand Olivier crashed over after the hour mark to make it interesting, but Grant had the final say.

The Sharks saw off a rousing late fightback to dent the Brumbies' challenge at the top of the Australian conference, pulling through 29-26 at Canberra Stadium.

Brumbies halfback Nick White darted over with seconds to spare to bring his side within striking distance, but Wallabies prop Ben Alexander spilled the ball as the hosts worked their way upfield in pursuit of the winning score from the restart.

The Sharks bagged a bonus point to catapult themselves back into contention in the South African standings, with fullback Riaan Viljoen notching two scores after fine work from Freddie Michalak and Odwa Ndungane respectively. Flanker Willem Alberts crossed for their third after an error by Brumbies wing Henry Speight, with Lwazi Mvovo showing incredible pace to round off a breakaway for their fourth.

Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg scored their other try - a stunning individual effort from 60 metres - while Christian Lealiifano continued his fine form with 16 points from the tee, albeit in a losing cause.

The Crusaders welcomed Dan Carter back to the starting line-up with a 23-13 victory over the Lions in Johannesburg. The game boasted plenty of ambition and its fair share of errors, with Zac Guildford and Sean Maitland proving the difference with tries for the visitors either side of half-time.

Guildford picked up a score off a reverse pass from Carter and while Patrick Cilliers was able to crash over from close range before the break, the Crusaders had further gas in the tank. Tom Taylor converted Maitland's score and added two further penalties after the resumption, with the Lions unable to add to their earlier efforts.

Also on Saturday, the Cheetahs notched only their second win of the Super Rugby campaign with a 47-38 victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington.

The hosts led 32-11 after just half an hour thanks to tries from hooker Dan Coles, fly-half Beauden Barrett, fullback Andre Taylor and scrum-half TJ Perenara but the Cheetahs battled back to level the scores before the break with fullback Hennie Daniller, winger Rayno Benjamin and prop Coenraad Oosthuizen adding to an earlier score from centre Andries Strauss.

The Hurricanes managed to stem the tide early in the second half but prop WP Nel notched the Cheetahs' fifth try just short of the hour mark. Barrett's boot kept the 'Canes in touch but Oosthuizen's second try underlined his side's dominance and sealed the win.

In the day's second game, the Chiefs returned from their bye week to register a 30-13 victory over the Waratahs in Hamilton.

The 'Tahs, looking to build on their impressive showing against the Sharks last time out, opened the scoring with a try from winger James Kingston but the Chiefs soon hit back with a score of their own through fullback Robbie Robinson.

The boot of fly-half Aaron Cruden edged the home side further ahead before the break and a try from prop Sona Taumalolo soon after the re-start gave them more breathing space. Tahs scrum-half Brendan McKibbin offered his side some hope with a penalty but flanker Liam Messam's try midway through the half kept the Chiefs on course for victory.

All Blacks flanker Adam Thomson grabbed a hat-trick as the Highlanders ran rampant in the second half to trounce the Melbourne Rebels 43-12 in their clash in Invercargill on Friday. The Highlanders scored 31 unanswered points after the break thanks to some breathtaking rugby as they gained their sixth win in seven games. They scored seven tries to none and the winning margin would have been even greater had they not missed six kicks at goal.

Thomson, who is one of the leading candidates to fill the No.6 shirt for the All Blacks this season in the absence of Jerome Kaino, was at his brilliant best but the Highlanders forwards all tucked into their work with gusto as Jamie Mackintosh, Jason Rutledge and Nasi Manu all had particularly strong games. Ben Smith scored two tries and was lethal from fullback, Kade Poki was an elusive runner on the right wing and Aaron Smith controlled play well from half-back.

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