Stormers wrap up South African Conference
July 7, 2012
Gio Aplon sprinted over for the Stormers' winning try © Getty Images
The Stormers wrapped up the South African Conference and with it their place in the Super Rugby play-offs with a workmanlike 13-6 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Gio Aplon, the Springbok international, snatched the win for the visitors with a try on 53 minutes, the winger snaffling Peter Grant's cross-kick to crash over. The Stormers now need a single point from next weekend's meeting with the Rebels to secure a home semi-final. Grant added the conversion to two earlier penalties to ensure four points in dismal conditions, with the Cheetahs mustering only two kicks from fly-half Riaan Smit either side of the interval.
Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers was satisfied with the result, despite the fact that they were unable to confirm a home semi by running in four tries. "The conditions were not suited to try-scoring so we have to be satisfied with the win. It is what it is, and the Cheetahs also played the conditions really well," he said.
The Brumbies all but secured the Australian Conference title with a 19-15 win over the Waratahs in Sydney that also keeps their hopes of a home semi-final alive. Jake White's side are now five points ahead of the Reds in the Australian pecking order and are third in the overall standings. In a tight affair, Harry Speight's second-half try was enough to give the Brumbies a first win in Sydney for 10 years. Zack Holmes and Jesse Mogg shared 14 points from the tee while the misfiring Waratahs will feel that they should have taken the match with tries from Tatafu Polota-Nau and Berrick Barnes.
"To be honest, we probably didn't play our best rugby, particularly in the first forty minutes," White said. "I spoke to Kafe [broadcaster Rod Kafer] at half time and told him it was like we had the jitters during the day. I think that's natural playing against 11 Wallabies at a ground that hasn't traditionally held a lot of success for us. That was always going to present challenges."
Earlier on Saturday, the Blues recorded just their third win of the season with a 32-9 bonus-point win over the Western Force at Eden Park. With both teams struggling at the foot of the Super Rugby standings, it was the Blues who secured a morale-boosting win in what has been a terrible season for the Auckland franchise. Ma'a Nonu impressed and crossed in the second-half with Steven Luatua, promising youngster Charles Piutau and Luke Braid also scoring.
The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) are currently advertising the position of Blues head coach, but current boss Pat Lam is trying to stay focused on the job in hand. Lam said of the future: "No decision has been made on that yet and till there is I'll keep my head down and doing the job and let the powers that be make their decisions."
In Saturday's final game, the Lions saw off a second-half charge to defeat the Melbourne Rebels 37-32 in Johannesburg. The hosts raced into a massive 24-7 half-time lead thanks to an early try from centre Waylon Murray and a brace from flanker Derick Minnie, although they were unable to keep up that pace for the full 80 minutes.
Ged Robinson bit back for the visitors bang on half-time and for a time after the interval it was one-way traffic as lock Hugh Pyle snatched a double and fly-half James Hilgendorf crashed over. Lions replacement Jaco Kriel landed a killer blow on 73 minutes with his side's bonus-point try while Elton Jantjies' third penalty made sure of victory.
On Friday night, the Sharks stayed in the hunt for the play-offs following an impressive 32-10 bonus-point victory over the Bulls in Durban. First-half tries from hooker Bismarck du Plessis and winger JP Pietersen and two more after the break courtesy of flanker Keegan Daniel and fullback Louis Ludik carried the hosts to an important win that lifts them into one of the wildcard places. The Bulls were always chasing the game and a second half try from fullback Zane Kirchner did little to stem the tide.
Sharks coach John Plumtree reserved special praise for centre Frans Steyn, who returned to Super Rugby action after a couple of years in France with Racing Metro. "He's just grown since he's left and that's natural," Plumtree said. "He's left as boy and come back a man, it's great to see and great for us. He's an outstanding individual."
The Bulls remain in second in the South African Conference, on points difference, and in possession of another of the three wildcard spots. The other is currently held by the Crusaders, who overcame New Zealand rivals the Chiefs 28-21 earlier in the day.
The Crusaders, who suffered a setback at the hands of play-off rivals the Hurricanes last time out, returned to winning ways thanks to tries from No.8 Kieran Read, lock Luke Romano and scrum-half Andy Ellis. The Chiefs, who had already secured the New Zealand Conference title and are now assured of a home semi-final, were always in the contest with tries from second row Brodie Retallick and centre Sonny Bill Williams bring them to within striking range late in the game.
But their hopes of snatching a draw disappeared in the closing stages with Williams guilty of ignoring an overlap which then allowed the visitors to snuff out the danger. "We weren't up to it last week and really needed to step up to it tonight," said Crusaders captain Richie McCaw. "We talked about it and I thought we fronted up well, particularly on their set piece."
Later on Friday, the Reds downed the Highlanders19-13 in a largely uninspiring game in Brisbane to temporarily move into the play-off picture. Mike Harris' boot gave the hosts a 6-3 half-time lead before a James Slipper try after the break stretched their advantage. Scores from Adam Thomson and Chris King gave the Highlanders hope but the defending champions held on for the win.
A relieved Reds captain Will Genia was quick to praise his side's defensive effort. "It's all about character, especially at the breakdown contest and defence, and when you're pushed to the limits on your tryline you just have to front up and we did," he said.
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