Lions’ shock win heralds daunting game for Sharks

2011-05-30 00:00

SOUTH AFRICAN teams blossomed in Round 14 of Super Rugby with the Sharks, Stormers and Lions downing Antipodean opposition at the weekend, while the Bulls edged the willing, ever-improving Cheetahs in the big local derby at Loftus.

But, in a compelling contest in Brisbane yesterday, the Reds cemented their place at the top of the log by edging the Crusaders 17-16. The Crusaders had held a two-point lead moments before the final hooter, but All Black captain Richie McCaw handled the ball in the middle of the ruck, in front of the posts, and a nervous Quade Cooper kicked the Reds to victory in what had been a see-sawing match.

The Sharks, down 13-21 to the resilient Waratahs at King’s Park and reduced to 14 men with half-an-hour remaining, were facing defeat and a premature end to the title challenge.

But long-striding wing JP Pietersen sparked the revival with a spectacular 70-metre run to the line for the second Sharks’ try and Pat Lambie’s boot finally took them home 26-21.

Naka Drotské’s Cheetahs, all fire and fury, refused to lie down at Loftus and a late flurry of tries brought them to 25-21 in the closing minutes. But the Free Staters went home with nothing when Bulls scrumhalf Francois Hougaard scrambled over minutes after the final hooter to earn the home team a 32-21 victory and a valuable bonus point.

While the Sharks climbed two places to fifth, leap-frogging the Highlanders and the Waratahs, the Bulls are now just outside the play-offs in seventh spot. Everyone has to keep winning.

Bloodied former Springbok flank Wikus van Heerden scored a try a minute from full-time to give the basement-dwelling Lions a shock 26-22 win over the Highlanders in Dunedin, their third of the season and one which severely damages the Highlanders’ play-off hopes.

Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga had kicked his team to the brink of victory, landing a conversion and five penalties for 17 points, but he missed touch from a late penalty, allowing the Lions to fashion Van Heerden’s try.

Young Lions flyhalf rival Elton Jantjies had an excellent evening, kicking two conversions and four penalties for 16 points and the experience of Butch James at inside centre was obvious.

“I’ve played for the Lions for a long time and I can’t remember us winning in New Zealand ever, so it’s a big occasion for us,” Lions captain Doppies la Grange said.

The Lions now travel to Wellington to face the Hurricanes and then face the Sharks at Ellis Park.

The Stormers, never convincing, made their piece of history in Canberra where they beat the Brumbies for the first time in Super Rugby to cement their third place on the log.

It was a workmanlike rather than inspiring win with the defences of both teams prevailing.

New young flyhalf Kurt Coleman, the Stormers’ fourth-choice, battled and the Stormers have now signed Earl Rose as back-up for the injury-hit Peter Grant.

The Stormers now end their tour in Melbourne against the lowly Rebels and could probably win with Schalk hulking at flyhalf.

The Sharks certainly improved in Durban, beating the Waratahs for the first time in five outings, but they made heavy weather of their win.

They dominated territory and possession for long periods — particularly in the second half and made a number of searing breaks, but their lack of finish and a desire to take on tacklers instead of passing cost them a number of tries.

Young scrumhalf Conrad Hoffman made a promising start, but left the field with an elbow injury after 15 minutes and their hero on the night was Pietersen. Big, strong and fast, he bothered the Waratahs whenever he had the ball and his second-half try certainly changed the mood of a tough contest.

Flyhalf Pat Lambie also had his most effective game of the season, bringing back memories of his Currie Cup final try when he squeezed through a gap from a set scrum and ran 20 metres to score.

He also varied his play astutely and the Sharks backs had a number of bright moments. Number eight Keegan Daniel was another who kept snapping away at the Waratahs for 80 minutes.

The Sharks now face a most daunting couple of weeks with away games to the revived Cheetahs, Lions and Bulls. But at least they are still in the running.

Weekend scores and scorers (home team first):

Sharks 26 (13). Tries - Pat Lambie, JP Pietersen. Conversions - Lambie (2). Penalties - Lambie (4). Waratahs 21 (11) Tries - Lachie Turner, Daniel Halangahu. Conversions - Kurtley Beale. Penalties - Beale (3).

Highlanders 22 (16): Tries - Shaun Treeby. Conversions - Lima Sopoaga. Penalties - Sopoaga (5). Lions 26 (9): Tries - Josh Strauss, Wikus van Heerden. Conversions - Elton Jantjies (2). Penalties - Jantjies (4)

Brumbies 3 (3). Penalties - Christian Lealiifano. Stormers 16 (6). Tries - Francois Louw. Conversions - Kurt Coleman. Penalties - Coleman (2), Gio Aplon.

Bulls 32 (11). Tries - Bjorn Basson, Danie Rossouw (2), Francois Hougaard. Conversions - Morné Steyn (3). Penalties - Steyn (2). Cheetahs 21 (0). Tries Ashley Johnson (2). Sias Ebersohn. Conversions - Ebersohn (3).

Played Sunday:

Reds 17 (7). Tries - Ben Tapuai, Will Genia. Conversions - Quade Cooper (2). Penalties –Cooper. Crusaders 16 (10). Tries - Brent Ward. Conversions - Dan Carter. Penalties - Carter (3).

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