Sharks tattered, but on top

2011-03-14 00:00

The Sharks, at the top of the log, and the Stormers, with a benefit of a bye, are the only unbeaten teams after the weekend’s fourth round of Super Rugby.

The Sharks squeaked rather than roared to a 34-32 win over the Rebels, newcomers to the competition, in Melbourne and the Stormers outkicked the previously unbeaten Highlanders 18-6 in Cape Town.

But there was profound relief for the Lions as they took advantage of a frail Cheetahs side to win 25-20 in Bloemfontein and break a sequence of 17 straight defeats in Super Rugby.

“It’s been a while,” Lions captain Franco van der Merwe said.

“But we knew in the back of our minds that it was eventually going to come. Hopefully, this is the first of many.”

The Lions took advantage of the home team’s limp defence, exploited by centre Doppies la Grange, in the first half to set the pace, but it needed a couple of close refereeing calls and some woeful Cheetahs handling in the final quarter to see them home.

Wing Sean Maitland scored four tries, equalling the tournament record, as the Crusaders dumped the Brumbies 52-10 in Nelson for their second straight win.

And the Hurricanes finished strongly to pip the Waikato Chiefs 29-26 for their first wins of the season.

Blues’ replacement flyhalf Stephen Brett kicked a penalty after the final hooter to give the Auckland team a fortunate 22-22 draw with the Force in Perth.

Blues coach Pat Lam said his team was lucky to earn a draw.

“The Force really got into us,” he said. “We made too many errors. We put ourselves under pressure and we know we’re fortunate to get a draw out of that game.”

The unbeaten Sharks left Australia for New Zealand with a full house of 10 points after two wins but with their defence in tatters after conceding four tries to the Rebels.

The Sharks also set a new South African record for achieving the most victories (24) over Australian opposition.

“I knew the Rebels would come and play well,” Sharks coach John Plumtree said. “But I didn’t think they would sustain it like that. They played with real intensity for 80 minutes.”

Plumtree said the unbeaten Sharks were beginning to panic, particularly after Danny Cipriani’s superb 55 metre sprint for a try and a 25-13 lead.

“At 18-13 at half-time we were still in it, but that try after half-time made it much harder work.

“I guess there were times that we doubted ourselves; that’s natural, we just needed some field position and had driving lineouts at them, then we got our reward from the scrums.

“It was just about gaining some territory and then getting some points. I was really impressed with the way they played; I thought they played really well.”

For the second week in a row, the Stormers won a match in which all points came from penalties in beating the Highlanders.

“We are still a work in progress,” Stormers captain Jean de Villiers said.

“The attitude showed and that’s not something that can be coached.”

The Bulls, Waratahs and Reds all had weekend byes (and were awarded four points each).

The Sharks play the Chiefs at 8.35 am on Friday (SA time) and are waiting to see whether their final tour game against the Crusaders will be in Nelson or across the other side of the world in London on Sunday, March 27.

 

S ATURDAY’S SCORES AND SCORERS

Hurricanes 29 (10) – Tries: John Schwalger, Tyson Keats. Conversions: Aaron Cruden, Daniel Kirkpatrick. Penalties: Cruden (3), Kirkpatrick (2).

Chiefs 26 (13) – Tries: Stephen Donald, Scott Waldrom, Tim Nanai-Williams. Conversions: Donald. Penalties: Donald (2), Mike Delany

Force 22 (16) – Tries: Nick Cummins, Conversions: James O’Connor. Penalties: O’Connor (5).

Blues 22 (9) – Tries: Keven Mealamu. Conversions: Stephen Brett. Penalties: Luke McAlister (4) Brett

Cheetahs 20 (14) – Tries: Andries Strauss. Penalties: Sias Ebersohn (5).

Lions 25 (16). Tries: Lionel Mapoe, Derick Minnie. Penalties. Elton Jantjies (5).

 

PLAYED FRIDAY

Melbourne Rebels 32 Sharks 34

Crusaders 52 Brumbies 10

Stormers 18 Otago Highlanders 6

Byes: Bulls, Reds, Waratahs

LEADING POINT SCORERS

65 - Patrick Lambie (Sharks)

50 - Dan Carter (Crusaders)

49 - James O’Connor (Force)

LEADING TRY SCORERS

5 - Sean Maitland (Crusaders)

3 - Lelia Masaga (Chiefs), Drew Mitchell (Waratahs), Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks), Kade Poki (Highlanders)

 

THIS WEEKEND’S FIXTURES (home team first, SA times):

Friday

Chiefs v Sharks 08.35

Reds v Rebels 11.40

Saturday

Highlanders v Crusaders 06.30

Blues v Hurricanes 08.35

Waratahs v Cheetahs 10.40

Lions v Force 17.05

Bulls v Stormers 19.10

Bye: Brumbies

 

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