Sharks still have a chance

2008-05-11 00:00

The Crusaders wrapped up tops going into the Super 14 play-offs, but the battle for the remaining three berths stayed wide open after the penultimate round over the weekend, with the Sharks waiting for one of the top teams to slip.

With one game to play, six teams hold a mathematical chance of joining the Crusaders in the semi-finals after the Lions upset the Chiefs at Ellis Park and the Waratahs and Stormers battled to a draw at Newlands

The fifth-placed Sharks (37 points) have to beat the Chiefs in the last of the round robin games on Saturday and hope that one of the Hurricanes (40), Waratahs (39) or Stormers (37), lose their final game.

The second-placed Hurricanes and sixth-placed Blues are separated by just four points.

Sharks coach Dick Muir said that his team has been in knock-out mode since the Crusaders game.

“We knew the Cheetahs could end our Super 14 chances and we know the Chiefs can on Saturday, so there will be no change in mindset this weekend. It is an amazing competition and this one is going right down to the wire.”

Muir said that the Chiefs will provide the Sharks “with a huge challenge” in spite of their shock loss to the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday, a result that has all but mathematically ended their chances of reaching the semi-finals.

Meanwhile, 12 points clear in the lead, the Crusaders showed the depth of their championship qualities as they came from behind to beat a brave Reds 27-21 Saturday.

With little at stake, the Crusaders had allowed the Reds to build a 21-8 lead with 15 minutes remaining.

But when coach Robbie Deans sent out the message he wanted his side in winning form for the knock-out stage of the competition, the Crusaders upped the tempo and ran in three tries during the closing stages. They were also boosted by the return of All Black Dan Carter from injury.

The Waratahs slipped from second to third behind the Hurricanes when they were held to a pulsating 13-13 draw by the Stormers.

With scoring opportunities negated by pouring rain throughout the match, the two points earned for the draw could be costly for both sides in their challenge for a home semi-final.

“It feels like a loss,” Stormers captain Jean de Villiers told AFP after his side came from 5-6 down at half-time to lead 13-6, before a sideline conversion from Kurtley Beale levelled the scores after a late try by Lote Tuqiri.

The Hurricanes were elevated into second place as they overcame rain, swirling wind and a ferocious defence to beat the Western Force 21-10.

The Blues kept up their charge, taking maximum points by beating the Otago Highlanders 40-15 with Nick Evans in exceptional form as he contributed 23 points from two tries, two conversions and three penalties.

Next week the Blues host the Hurricanes in what will be a virtual quarter-final showdown.

The big losers on the weekend were the Chiefs, who saw their outside chance of a top-four finish all but disappear when they were beaten 33-27 by the Lions, who secured their first win in 11 matches.

The Chiefs paid a heavy price for having prop Ben May sent off on 64 minutes for stamping a grounded opponent in the face. The offence occurred at the source of a move that finished with wing Lelia Masaga dotting down for a try, which was then disallowed because of the incident.

The Chiefs’ final match and the final match of the season is against the fifth-placed Sharks in Durban.

The Sharks collected a crucial five points with a brace of late tries from Odwa Ndungane to secure a 33-14 win over the Central Cheetahs.

Ndungane scored twice in the final two minutes, adding to an earlier hat-trick by flanker Jacques Botes.

“We live to fight another day,” said captain AJ Venter.

“It wasn’t easy, but we got the five points and that’s all that matters.”

In the remaining round 12 match, the Bulls extinguished any hopes the Brumbies had of making the playoffs with a 28-17 win in Pretoria.

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