Sharks hit the Super 14 summit
March 28, 2009
The Sharks' JP Pietersen dives over to score a try against the Brumbies in Durban © Getty Images
Lions 32 - 38 Hurricanes Sharks 35 - 14 Brumbies Reds 26 - 50 Chiefs Crusaders 11 - 7 Stormers Highlanders 36 - 12 Bulls Blues 22 - 27 Waratahs
Stephen Brett Jimmy Cowan Christian Leali'ifano Keven Mealamu JP Pietersen Conrad Smith Morne Steyn Stefan Terblanche
The Sharks claimed top spot in this year's Super 14 with a comprehensive 35-14 victory over the Brumbies in Durban.
The Sharks dominated the early exchanges and opened the scoring through JP Pietersen on the quarter hour. The Brumbies bounced back with a try from Christian Leiliafano who exploited a gap in the hosts' defence to score a converted try but from that point it was the Sharks who dominated.
Fullback Stefan Terblanche ran in the Sharks' second try just before the break and Rory Kockott added a third straight after the re-start to cement the lead. Further pressure saw Jacques Botes secure the bonus point and No.8 Ryan Kankowski added a fifth try seven minutes from the final whistle. The Brumbies grabbed a late consolation try with replacement hooker Salesi Ma'afu dotting down.
Home is where the heart is but the Highlanders saved their very best for neutral territory, hammering the Bulls 36-12 in a major upset at Palmerston North. A boistrous crowd at Arena Manawatu carried an inspired Highlanders to a memorable win, scoring five tries to two against the only unbeaten team heading into round seven.
A Bulls side that had conceded just 16 points a game before today were opened up early through a try to centre Jason Shoemark after some concerted pressure. The Bulls struck back into the wind through a try to winger Gerhard van den Heever but they spent most of the first half defending from then, conceding tries to second five-eighth Daniel Bowden and the inspirational Cowan.
At 5-21 down, the Bulls turned with the wind at the back but quickly saw the game slip away from them courtesy of a try and penalty to first five-eighth Matt Berquist, who scored 16 points. Morne Steyn responded with a Bulls try but the final say went to young Highlanders fullback Israel Dagg, who capped another assured performance with a try.
"These boys (Bulls) are known to be big bullies, they want to boss you around the field but our boys were up for that," said captain Jimmy Cowan. "Our structure was there and on defence we were going in in twos and threes."
The Hurricanes maintained their push for play-offs with a 38-32 bonus point victory over the Lions in Johannesburg.
Two tries from Conrad Smith in the opening ten minutes saw the visitors take control of the contest and a penalty from fly-half Piri Weepu cemented their advantage. The Lions rallied with a try from Jaque Fourie and two penalties from Andre Pretorius but a try from scrum-half Alby Mathewson gave them a 13-point lead at the break.
The Lions raised their game after the re-start and a second try for Fourie and another from Todd Clever saw them take the lead. Ma'a Nonu crossed to put the visitors back in front and a try from Willie Ripia sealed the win but the Lions snatched a late score to claim two bonus points.
The execution didn't match the purpose but the Crusaders did enough to beat the Stormers 11-7 in a scrappy match in Christchurch.
After dominating for large periods, the Crusaders walked off AMI Stadium relieved to have snared victory over South African opponents who defended with desperation and could easily have snuck a late win rather than snare just a bonus point.
A try to Crusaders winger Adam Whitelock in the right corner seven minutes from half-time gave his team the lead for the first time and proved decisive, with a second penalty from teammate Stephen Brett late in the game the only other points of the match.
Coming off the bye, the Stormers lacked the possession and space needed to come close to matching their 56-18 last-start defeat of the Lions two weeks ago.
The Waratahs ended their Auckland rugby jinx and delivered the Blues a Super 14 body blow with a 27-22 win at Eden Park. The men from New South Wales recorded their first win in seven visits to Auckland to climb to the top of the standings at the start of round seven.
The Blues at least put in a better defensive display than last week's 34-63 capitulation against the Chiefs but the Blues were still outplayed on a night that was supposed to celebrate captain Keven Mealamu's 100th Super rugby appearance. The Waratahs forwards were shaky at lineout time but more cohesive on the drive and at the breakdown while their defensive patterns around the fringes were superior to the hosts. Both teams scored three tries but the five-from-six goalkicking return of Waratahs first five-eighth Daniel Halangahu proved the difference.
"Gentlemen, if you want to see the World Cup going south yet again, you are going the right way about it," John Taylor looks at the state of European rugby
The Heineken Cup proved once again just why it is the best domestic rugby competition in the world at the weekend and Monday Maul picks out some of the key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures brings you a selection of the best snaps from around the rugby world with scantily clad ladies, O'Driscoll and snow all featuring