Stormers, Bulls march on at the top

2012-04-23 00:00

THE Stormers and Bulls marched on at the top of the Super Rugby log, the Cheetahs and Lions bagged four points from their weekend bye, and it was another sorry tale for the Sharks who did much that was right, but fluffed their scoring opportunities to lose 18-12 to the Chiefs in Durban.

The Sharks’ frustrating loss at King’s Park allows the Chiefs to maintain their lead at the top of the overall log while the Stormers, with their Friday win over the Reds in Brisbane and the Bulls, with their edgy 36-34 victory over the Brumbies at Loftus, are locked together on 33 points.

The Sharks did all the groundwork in setting up a position to beat the Chiefs in Durban. They closed down the Chiefs’ dangerous All Black midfield and Sonny Bill Williams was never a factor as he frequently spilt a greasy ball.

But the Sharks also made a rash of errors in handling while coughing up lineout ball in the first half and then chip-kicked away valuable possession in the crucial last quarter.

Much of what the Sharks did was excellent and they had the edge in territory and possession. Their scrum stood up well and Jacques Botes and Bismarck du Plessis worried the Chiefs at the breakdown.

But against an excellent Chiefs defence, they often took the game too wide, too soon instead of playing the ball through the phases, and this led to frequent turnovers.

The Sharks provided the early pressure, but it was the Chiefs who were fortunate to score first when flyhalf Aaron Cruden ran behind a fellow-player and was not touched in cutting through a yawning gap to score. Cruden converted and added a penalty, and the Sharks, down 0-10, were left to chase the game for the rest of the evening.

Three Pat Lambie penalties kept the Sharks in the hunt (10-9), but they could not break the Chiefs’ defensive blanket.

The Sharks applied the pressure in the closing minutes after penalties had been traded (13-12), but Chiefs scrumhalf Augustine Pulu ran down the touchline to score after the final hooter when everyone in the ground expected him to boot the ball to touch.

Cruden’s conversion from the touchline, which would have denied the Sharks a bonus point hit the upright and stayed out (18-12). The point was no more than the Sharks deserved for their brave effort, but they will know that this was another game they allowed to literally slip through their fingers.

The Bulls were helped by Morné Steyn’s kicking and a refereeing blunder in beating the lively and brave Brumbies 36-34 at Loftus.

Steyn landed eight out of 10 kicks at goal and landed a drop to prove the difference as his side were outscored by five tries to two by Jake White’s young Brumbies.

The Brumbies, top of the Australian conference, took little notice of the supposed altitude problem as they scored three tries in the final 10 minutes to claim two bonus points.

The Bulls led 25-13 midway through the second half when Steyn knocked on in his own half. While nearly all the players (including Steyn) stopped, South African referee Marius Jonker waved on play and CJ Stander ran almost 50 metres to score. At 30-13, the Bulls appeared safe, but the Brumbies kept running at them, had one try rightly disallowed, but scored three others to emerge with their heads high.

The Crusaders are starting to flex their muscles in New Zealand and they thumped the Hurricanes 42-14 in Wellington, while the Waratahs conceded two late tries but still comfortably beat the Rebels 30-21 in Sydney.

Saturday’s scores and scorers:

Crusaders 42 (Israel Dagg 2, Keiran Read, Dan Carter, Robbie Fruean tries; Tom Taylor 4 conversions, 3 penalties), Hurricanes 14 (Andre Taylor, Victor Vito tries; Beauden Barrett 2 conversions). HT: 32-7.

Waratahs 30 (Bernard Foley, Rob Horne, Tatafu Polota-Nau tries; Brendan McKibbin 3 conversions, 3 penalties), Rebels 21 (Tim Davidson, Lachlan Mitchell, Ged Robinson tries; Kurtley Beale, Julian Huxley, James O’Connor conversions). HT: 16-7.

Chiefs 18 (Aaron Cruden, Augustine Pulu tries; Cruden conversion, 2 penalties), Sharks 12 (Patrick Lambie 4 penalties). HT: 10-3.

Bulls 36 (Bjorn Basson, C.J. Stander tries; Morne Steyn conversion, 7 penalties, dropped goal), Brumbies 34 (Henry Speight, Jesse Mogg, Andrew Smith, Ian Prior, Anthony Hegarty tries; Christian Lealiifano 3 conversions, penalty). HT: 19-13.

Played Friday:

Highlanders 30 Blues 27

Stormers 23 Reds 13.

Byes: Cheetahs, Force, Lions

This weekend’s fixtures (home team first, SA times)

Friday

Blues v Reds 9.35 am

Lions v Brumbies 7.10 pm

Saturday

Chiefs v Hurricanes 9.35 am

Force v Stormers 11.40 am

Cheetahs v Highlanders 5.05 pm

Sunday

Waratahs v Crusaders 7.10 am

Byes: Bulls, Rebels, Sharks

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