Bulls down Sharks to cement top spot
May 1, 2010
Hurricanes inside centre Ma'a Nonu grabbed a powerful double in his side's victory over the Chiefs © Getty Images
Bulls 27 - 19 Sharks Lions 12 - 33 Force Cheetahs 36 - 32 Blues Brumbies 32 - 12 Reds Hurricanes 33 - 27 Chiefs Stormers 42 - 14 Crusaders Highlanders 26 - 10 Waratahs
Australia Blues Brumbies Bulls Cheetahs Chiefs Crusaders Force Highlanders Hurricanes Lions New South Wales Waratahs New Zealand Queensland Reds Reds Sharks South Africa Stormers Waratahs
The Bulls produced a battling second-half display to notch a 27-19 victory over South Africa rivals the Sharks and cement their place at the top of the Super 14 table.
The boot of Sharks fly-half Andy Goode kicked the visitors into a 12-9 lead at the break but the Bulls roared back and tries from Jacques-Louis Potgieter and Gerhard van den Heever handed them a lead they never relinquished despite a late score from Rory Kockott.
Goode gave the Sharks, who needed to win all of their remaining games to maintain a realistic chance of making the post-season, an early lead with a fifth-minute penalty. Morne Steyn missed the chance to draw the hosts level and England international Goode punished the mistake by slotting over to move the Sharks 6-0 ahead. Steyn and Goode traded further penalties as the boot continued to dominate and when Goode converted another opportunity after 23 minutes the Sharks were full value for their advantage. Steyn finally found his range as the half wore on and two cool penalties saw the visitors' advantage trimmed to three points at the break.
Steyn missed the chance to drag his side level at the start of the second period but it proved only temporary respite for the Sharks as the hosts upped the tempo. Steyn made it 12-12 before the Bulls finally grabbed the opening try of the match on the hour mark. Potgieter opened up the Sharks defence before picking out Zane Kirchner. Kirchner powered on before slipping the ball back to Potgieter to go over for a score converted by Steyn.
Steyn notched another penalty to extend the Bulls' lead to 22-12 and the game was as good as won when Fourie du Preez's kick for the corner fell loose and Van den Heever was on hand to gather and touch down. The Sharks, having watched Steyn miss the conversion, had the final say when Kockott sprinted in from 40 metres to reduce the deficit. Ruan Pienaar added the extras but it wasn't enough.
Ma'a Nonu's double helped earned the Hurricanes a thrilling 33-27 victory over the Chiefs in Wellington to keep their faint finals hopes alive. The Chiefs led from early in the match but Nonu's second try late in the second half nudged his team in front by a point, before Neemia Tialata's last minute effort earned a precious bonus for the 'Canes. Inside centre Jackson Willison crossed for the Chiefs after Hurricanes No.10 Aaron Cruden dropped the ball cold in his own 22. That didn't quell their expansive game though, and they were soon rewarded by a try to Cory Jane after an initial line break by Nonu.
After a period of sustained pressure by the Chiefs pack the honour of crashing over went to prop Sona Taumalolo to put the visitors in front. The uber-talented Tim Nanai-Williams then scored one of the individual tries of the season by stepping through a nonexistent hole in the 'Canes line and slipping past Jane to dive over.
The Chiefs then collected a first-half bonus point as captain Liam Messam broke from a scrum suspiciously early to intercept No.8 Rodney So'oialo's pop pass and run away to score his side's fourth try. Nonu hit back with a typically powerful effort to keep the gap at nine points at the break, but despite both teams throwing the ball around freely the scoring was restricted to a series of penalties until Nonu busted through in trademark fashion in the 74th minute, and an exhausted Chiefs side couldn't dent the Hurricanes' charge at the top four.
The Cheetahs added some further respectability to their current campaign with a 36-32 bonus point victory over the Blues in Bloemfontein to dent the Kiwis hopes of forcing their way into the play-off picture. But they required a final-quarter rally to seal victory after Rene Ranger and Alby Mathewson put the Blues 27-22 ahead. Replacement Philip van der Walt cancelled out that advantage and Waltie Vermeulen's converted score proved decisive.
The Cheetahs had held a comfortable 22-13 advantage at half-time thanks to South Africa flanker Juan Smith's third-minute try and further scores from wings Jongi Nokwe and Bjorn Basson. Centre Isaia Toeava had responded for the Blues, Stephen Brett kicking their other eight points. But when Ranger and Mathewson crossed it looked as though the Blues would go into their last two fixtures, against the Lions and the Chiefs, with their hopes of advancing intact.
But forward Van der Valt, on as a blood-bin replacement, had other ideas and Vermeulen's try opened up a nine-point gap. Blues wing Anthony Tuitavake pulled a try back but Brett's missed conversion left them still needing a further try and a valiant push in stoppage time was thwarted.
And Western Force heaped woe on the rock-bottom Lions with a 33-12 victory in Johannesburg. After David Hill and Herkie Kruger traded four first-half penalties apiece, Scott Staniforth broke through late in the first half. And scores after the break from Hill and Mark Bartholomeusz made victory secure, leaving the Force 11th in the table.
Hill set the Perth side on their way with two penalties in the first three minutes. And they led 9-3 after the Lions' Kruger and Hill traded further shots, with Brett Sheehan off target for the Force with another effort in between. Hill stretched the lead by a further three points as the kicking duel continued, but indiscipline from the Australian side allowed Kruger to kick nine points in eight minutes and level the scores at 12 apiece.
Flanker Matt Hodgson had been sin-binned along the way, but when the Lions' Wikus van Heerden followed five minutes before the interval the Force took full advantage. A rare passage of spirited attacking running saw Bartholomeusz make good ground and set up a move which ended with Staniforth touching down. Hill added the extras to make it 19-12 at the interval. Whatever Dick Muir and Ray Mordt said to the Lions at half-time seemed to spur them into life and they twice surged towards the visitors' line only to knock on as the chance presented itself.
The Force responded and Nathan Sharpe was held at bay a yard out before good work by prop Matt Dunning went to waste as a subsequent pass went to ground. Staniforth was forced into touch but the breakthrough came when Pek Cowan received good line-out ball and put Hill over, the fly-half converting his own try. And Hill repeated the dose after Bartholomeusz crossed to complete a comfortable win.
The Stormers have signalled their Super 14 title credentials with a crushing 42-14 victory over the Crusaders at Newlands. Peter Grant put the Stormers ahead with a first minute penalty after Richie McCaw, wining his 100th Super Rugby cap, had obstructed at the kick-off. McCaw was also at fault for Grant's second penalty, which the fly-half dispatched with ease before coughing up the first try of the game to Dan Carter. His lazy clearance was charged down by the All Black pivot for a simple run in and conversion.
Grant's third penalty restored the home side's narrow lead and after Carter had squandered a three-pointer he pounced again as half-time approached. Crusaders No.8 Kieran Read then paid the price for persistent breakdown infringements, getting 10 minutes from referee Stuart Dickinson in the final play of the first half.
Jaque Fourie turned the game on its head after the break with a try of rare brilliance. The Springbok centre was put clear by Grant's inside ball and he powered away, stepping three defenders before crashing over. Grant landed the conversion and a brace of penalties soon after to leave the home side in complete control. Grant kept the scoreboard ticking over as time ran down, with Crusaders fullback Colin Slade and Fourie trading late tries in front of a thrilled Newlands faithful.
The Waratahs' finals hopes took a massive blow in the wind and rain of Invercargill as the Highlanders scored an upset 26-10 win on Friday night. The chilly extremity of New Zealand's South Island gave the Highlanders the perfect home ground advantage and the brilliance of fullback Israel Dagg and superior breakdown play of hooker Jason Rutledge inspired the hosts to just their third triumph of the season.
Adam Thomson scored a double to go with Steven Setephano's early try while Matt Berquist was at one with mother nature as he steered some impressive kicks home in blustery conditions. The Waratahs missed the chance to move into second place in the opening match of the round, instead remaining one point behind the teams in second, third and fourth positions.
Much was made of the hostile locale before the match and the Waratahs looked well out of their comfort zone from the outset. Setephano broke through a scrum and fell over the line in the 10th minute before Dagg's line break create helped set up Thomson's first three minutes later.
The Waratahs could barely string a phase together but started to get some field position through better set piece play. When they finally did get some continuity a superb inside pass by Berrick Barnes put Kurtley Beale under the posts to bring the score back to 12-10 at half time. Another linebreak by Dagg led to another try for Thomson after the break and only a trio of expert penalties by Berquist disturbed the scorers after that as the Highlanders kicked themselves to complete positional dominance in the perfect wet-weather performance.