It’s Sharks, Stormers, Bulls

2012-07-16 00:00

THE South African pieces dropped neatly into place at the weekend when the Stormers nailed prime spot on the final Super Rugby log and the Bulls and Sharks joined them in the top six.

The Stormers continued to reign supreme at Newlands with their eighth consecutive home win as they beat the Rebels 26-21. The Stormers will have this weekend off before hosting a semi-final and, if they advance, the final on August 4.

This was another typical Stormers win. They were ragged and untidy on attack, but their resilience in defence carried them to victory as they spent most of the second half on defence.

Stormers’ coach Allister Coetzee said his players “ran out of energy” after a strong start.

“I’m not able to say why, but we looked flat at times, but this team has been able to move on and cope with adversity.

“I salute the players because they’ve won the SA conference for the second successive year and it’s been tough.

“We’ve now reached our objective of making the play-offs and, from this point on, it is about winning and playing the percentages.

“We are comfortable with the way we play and will not make changes now. You do not need bonus points in the semi-finals.”

Stirling Mortlock said he was proud of his Rebels team.

“I certainly felt we did enough to have won this game and from our perspective we were on the wrong end of a quite a few [refereeing] decisions.”

But he paid tribute to the Stormers defence. “When it comes to finals rugby, it is all about winning. I rate the Stormers’ championship chances very highly.”

The Bulls and Sharks overhauled the Brumbies and Hurricanes to secure play-off places with their victories on Saturday evening.

The Sharks dominated the second half, scoring 28 unanswered points, to beat the Cheetahs 34-15 at King’s Park while the Bulls’ second half revival carried them to a 37-20 win over the Lions in the final game of the weekend.

The shell-shocked Brumbies, Australian leaders all season, dropped out of top six contention after going down 30-16 at home to the struggling Blues.

“It was a terrible way to end the season,” said coach Jake White as the Brumbies failed to gain the bonus point which would have seen them advance.

They were overtaken by the Reds who took five log points from their 32-16 win over the Waratahs in Brisbane.

The Crusaders sealed fourth spot — and a home play-off to the Bulls — with a 38-24 win over the Force.

The Bulls leapfrogged the Sharks with a bonus point win over the Lions which carried them into fifth place. The Bulls battled in the first half and the sides were level at 20-20 before the home team settled the contest.

The Bulls now face the toughest assignment in Super Rugby, having to trek for days to Christchurch to face the seven-time champion Crusaders.

The Sharks face the shorter trip to Brisbane to face the defending champion Reds in the other quarter-final. Victory on foreign soil will take a major effort but it would take the Sharks into a semi-final clash against the Stormers.

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said there was never any question of his team manipulating the game to give them an easier play-off in Brisbane rather than Christchurch.

“We knew it was a must win for us,” Ludeke said. “There was never talk in the side about permutations.”

The introduction of Boks Willem Alberts and Bismarck du Plessis provide the Sharks with the second-half momentum to turn a 15-6 deficit at the break into a 34-15 win over the Cheetahs.

The out-of-sort Sharks battled in an error-ridden first half when centre Frans Steyn was also yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle. But their strong revival, with wing JP Pietersen in compelling form, saw them score tries by Keegan Daniel, scrumhalf Charl McLeod, flank Marcell Coetzee and backrower Ryan Kankowski as the forwards and backs combined effectively.

The loss of Bok flank Heinrich Brussow (knee) hurt the Cheetahs, but they were seldom out of their half as the Sharks finally found some cohesion and they won the contest by four tries to nil.

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