Sloppy Stormers can land home semi with win over Bulls

2010-05-10 00:00

THE Stormers, more by the weekend’s good fortune than by good rugby, will still land a home Super 14 semi-final if they beat the Bulls in the final round at Newlands on Saturday.

The Bulls, thanks to several marginal calls by the South African officials, sealed top spot (47 points) and home advantage for the play-offs by beating the Crusaders 40-35 at Loftus on Friday night. The controversial win cost the Crusaders three log points and dropped them to sixth spot on 36.

And then the sluggish, sloppy Stormers, outmuscled by the Sharks at King’s Park, snatched a losing bonus point on the final whistle as they went down 20-14. It was a crucial score and lifted them to 39 points on the log where they are alone in second place following the Crusaders’ loss.

The Stormers are only just clear of the Waratahs (38), the Brumbies and Hurricanes (both 37), but they have a far superior points difference and a win over the Bulls at Newlands on Saturday will allow them to retain their second spot for a home semi-final.

The Bulls are out of sight at the top and they could send their reserves to Cape Town on Saturday. They will not, of course, and will want to maintain their momentum, but it does seem likely that key players, like Fourie du Preez and Victor Matfield, will be rested.

Sharks coach John Plumtree, savouring his team’s excellent win, still believes the Stormers will nail down a home semi-final.

“It depends what Bulls team arrives at Newlands, whether they will be a full strength one and what their psyche is.”

The Crusaders, meanwhile, have genuine reason to be aggrieved about their loss at Loftus where they were often on the wrong end of South African referee Marius Jonker’s calls. It came to a head on the final hooter when the Bulls, held up in the maul, in a use it or lose it situation, were wrongly awarded the final scrum.

Moments later, after the hooter, Bulls wing Francois Hougaard scored a highly contentious try to turn a 33-35 deficit into a stunning victory for the Super 14 leaders to preserve their 18-match winning record at Loftus.

Replacement hooker Bandise Maku, in making the final pass, appeared to lose the ball forward. It then glanced off Crusaders prop Owen Frans and Hougaard gathered to run clear. Jonker, on the advice of his assistant Jaco Peyper, and with Crusaders captain Richie McCaw protesting vehemently, awarded the winning try.

On such fleeting moments are long campaigns decided.

There was nothing controversial about the way the Sharks undid the Stormers in windy Durban and they were full value for the win. Had their finishing been slicker and had they opted to kick four goalable first-half penalties instead of setting up attacking lineouts, they would have won by a comfortable margin and denied the Stormers even their crucial one bonus point.

The Sharks, on the front foot on both attack and defence, kept the Stormers under relentless pressure and the Cape Town franchise reacted badly, dropping passes and missing tackles.

“The Sharks pitched for the game, we didn’t,” Stormers captain Schalk Burger said later. “The only positive was the bonus point.”

With the Sharks superb in all areas of forward play, and creating momentum and space, halfbacks Rory Kockott and Ruan Pienaar had a field day.

Quick phase ball set up an early try for Odwa Ndungane and, after three final scoring passes went missing, Pienaar followed his aimless kick over the Stormers’ line where a casual Sireli Naqelevuki failed to dot down the bouncing ball, scoring the second.

The Sharks crossed over 14-0 up — “we should have scored at least 20”, Plumtree said later — but Peter Grant, with a well-worked try early in the half, and flank Francois Louw on the final whistle, scored second half tries for the Stormers to earn them a log point.

The Cheetahs, quick to seize on errors, pulled off their second successive win when they beat the Force 29-14 in Bloemfontein.

Dick Muir’s Lions officially became the worst side ever to play Super Rugby when they lost 56-14 to the Blues at Ellis Park. They now hold the record for 12 consecutive defeats in one season, eclipsing (if that be the word) the Bulls’ previous record of 11 losses in 2002.

The Waratahs rushed into third place on the log by crushing the Chiefs 46-19 in Hamilton, and the Brumbies climbed to fourth after a 31-3 victory over the Highlanders in Canberra. The Hurricanes thumped the fading Reds 44-21.

The final round this weekend will involve three games among the top six teams and all fighting for the remaining three semi-final spots. The Stormers host the Bulls, the dejected Crusaders travel home to play the Brumbies and the Hurricanes are away to the Waratahs.

The Sharks, who have won six of their last seven games, but are still only ninth, hope to end with a bang against the Force at King’s Park on Friday night.

Saturday’s scores and scorers (home team first):

Sharks 20 Stormers 14

Sharks – Tries: Ruan Pienaar, Odwa Ndungane; Conversions: Pienaar (2); Penalties: Pienaar (2). Stormers – Tries: Peter Grant, Francois Louw; Conversions: Grant (2).

Cheetahs 29 Force 14

Cheetahs – Tries: Bjorn Basson (2), Naas Olivier, Sarel Pretorius. Conversions: Olivier (3); Penalty: Olivier. Force – Tries: Ryan Cross, David Pocock; Conversions: James O`Connor (2).

Lions 14 Blues 56

Lions – Tries: Carlos Spencer (2); Conversions: Herkie Kruger (2). Blues – Tries: Joe Rokocoko (2), Benson Stanley, Stephen Brett, Alby Mathewson, Paul Williams, Tom McCartney; Conversions: Brett (6); Penalties: Brett (3).

Chiefs 19 Waratahs 46

Chiefs – Tries: Jackson Willison (2); Tim Nanai-Williams; Conversions: Callum Bruce, Dwayne Sweeny. Waratahs – Tries: Drew Mitchell, Ben Mowen, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Berrick Barnes, Kurtley Beale, Lachlan Turner, Damian Fitzpatrick; Conversions: Barnes (2), Daniel Halangahu (2); Penalty: Barnes.

Brumbies 31 Highlanders 3

Brumbies – Tries: Rocky Elsom, Salesi Ma`afu, Josh Valentine, Matt Toomua; Conversions: Matt Giteau (4); Penalty: Giteau. Highlanders – Penalty: Israel Dagg

Played Friday:

Hurricanes 44 Reds 21

Bulls 40 Crusaders 35

Final-round fixtures

Friday (home team first, SA times):

Crusaders v Brumbies 9.35 am

Waratahs v Hurricanes 11.40 am

Sharks v Force 7.10 pm

Saturday

Blues v Chiefs 9.35 am

Reds v Highlanders 11.40 am

Cheetahs v Lions 3 pm

Stormers v Bulls 5.05 pm

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