Brumbies fend off Force to go top in Australia
The ACT Brumbies rocked the Western Force with four first-half tries before clinging on for a 28-17 victory on Saturday to move back ahead of the Queensland Reds in the race for the Australian Super Rugby conference title.
The Reds had pulled level with the Brumbies with a win in Melbourne on Friday but the Canberra-based side secured the all-important bonus point before halftime and held off a spirited Force fightback in the second period.
The Force had been hoping to give lock Wallabies Nathan Sharpe a winning farewell in his final home match before retirement but a brace of tries from winger Nick Cummins and another from lock Toby Lynn proved too little, too late.
"I thought the way we played in the first half is what we're capable of and we've just got to make sure we do it more often," Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen said in a pitchside interview.
"We take away five points from Perth, which is not easy to do, and we move on to the next one."
Brumbies winger Jesse Mogg opened the scoring after only two minutes, fending off Force skipper David Pocock and rounding the last defender to score in the corner.
Prop Ben Alexander was the next to cross nine minutes later when he bulldozed through the Force defence and when flyhalf Zack Holmes converted the Brumbies were 12-0 ahead.
Pocock's customary fine work at the breakdown stymied a couple of Brumbies attacks but winger Henry Speight dived across the line in the 29th minute and Holmes added the fourth after cutting through the home defence with a neat sidestep.
The Force came out firing after turning around 22-0 down and started to throw the ball around to great effect with Cummins finishing well for tries in the same corner in the 43rd and 51st minutes.
Holmes notched his first penalty after 56 minutes but the Force were not done yet and Lynn forced his way over after a textbook catch and drive from a line-out with 12 minutes remaining.
All the momentum and most of the possession was with the Force in the last quarter and the visitors breathed a sigh of relief when Holmes slotted his second penalty in the 72nd minute to stretch the lead to 11 points.
"It's a bit disappointing to send Sharpie off with this result," said Pocock. "But I'm proud of the resolve we showed in the second half."
The Brumbies make the comparatively short trip to Sydney to face the New South Wales Waratahs next weekend before their final regular season match at home to the Auckland Blues.
Wellington Hurricanes 23-22 Canterbury Crusaders
Conrad Smith scored two tries as the Wellington Hurricanes kept their Super Rugby play-off hopes alive with a 23-22 victory over the Canterbury Crusaders in a Christchurch thriller on Saturday.
Crusaders replacement back Tyler Bleyendaal came up short with a penalty from halfway in the 80th minute to allow the visitors to take the spoils and some revenge for the 42-14 defeat they suffered earlier this season.
"That is pretty pleasing to beat this bunch after they put 40 on us at home," Hurricanes skipper Smith said in a pitchside interview.
"They are too good a side to let them play, you've got to get up and shut them down."
Quite how the Hurricanes won a match where they nearly conceded a try in the second minute and were distinctly second best at the set piece as well as in the disciplinary stakes will have baffled more than a few fans at Rugby League Park.
Missing All Blacks Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Israel Dagg to injuries sustained in the international window, the seven-times champion Crusaders now face a crunch meeting with the competition-leading Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton on Friday.
"Just one of those days where we did some good things and we also did some pretty dumb things, so disappointing," Crusaders captain Richie McCaw said.
The Crusaders started with the good things and Tom Taylor, deputising for Carter at fly-half, kicked the first two of his five penalties to give the Crusaders a 6-0 lead in the 11th minute.
The Hurricanes were brought to life by the first of Beauden Barrett's three penalties in the 15th minute and a minute later they had taken the lead with Smith's try after brilliant work from Hurricanes full-back Andre Taylor.
Tom Taylor had added another penalty when Crusaders winger Zac Guildford ran 70 metres through two tackles with a blistering turn of pace to score his team's only try in the 37th minute and put the home side 16-10 ahead.
The Hurricanes snatched the advantage back immediately, however, when Smith somehow snaked his way through the defence to score his second try and Barrett converted to send the visitors into the break 17-16 up.
Tom Taylor added another penalty immediately after the restart and his fifth in the 54th minute but Barrett responded with two of his own in the 65th and 72nd minutes to set up the dramatic finale.
The Stormers 27-17 The Lions
The Stormers strengthened their position atop the South African Super Rugby conference with a 27-17 victory over the Lions at Newlands on Saturday.
The win gave the Stormers 58 points, four behind overall leaders Waikato Chiefs and nine ahead of their nearest South African challengers.
They were made to work hard against a Lions team which went into the match having claimed just two victories in this year's competition.
The unfancied Lions trailed by three points with 10 minutes left before two tries in a six-minute spell ended their hopes.
"“We weren't good enough at the breakdown," Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers said in a pitchside interview. "“We need to improve a lot but I'm happy with the win."
The Stormers edged into a 6-3 lead after 27 minutes thanks to two penalties from flyhalf Peter Grant, the Lions replying with a penalty from Elton Jantjies.
The first try came after 30 minutes when Stormers wing Danie Poolman made a searing midfield break and fullback Gio Aplon landed his sixth try of the season.
Grant added the conversion as the Stormers went to the break 13-3 up.
The Johannesburg-based Lions began the second half the strongest and, eight minutes in, narrowed the deficit when flanker Josh Strauss burst clear from a ruck before setting off on a 22-metre run on his way to a converted try.
The Stormers hit back with 10 minutes left, Canadian international loose forward Jebb Sinclair forcing his way over in the corner for a converted try.
The score seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Lions and the Stormers claimed another try when winger Gerhard van den Heever jinked his way over from 10 metres out.
There was a late consolation try for the Lions when lock Franco van der Merwe dived over.
"“Our discipline let us down especially in the first half," said Lions captain Strauss.
"“Our scrum and our driving play was good but if we had not given away so many penalties it could have been a different game."
Bulls 40-24 Cheetahs
The Bulls ran in six tries and were 40-0 up after an hour as they breezed past the Cheetahs 40-24 in their all-South African Super Rugby match at Loftus Versfeld.
The Cheetahs gave the scoreline a respectable look by grabbing four tries in the final quarter.
The Bulls are now fourth in the overall standings, eight points behind the first-placed Chiefs, and second in the South African Conference, four points adrift of the Stormers.
The home team were full of ideas from the start and the opening try by forward Pierre Spies came after wing Akona Ndungane counter-attacked from a poor kick.
A scintillating break by scrumhalf Francois Hougaard then set up the second touchdown by loosehead prop Dean Greyling.
Fullback Zane Kirchner also dived over before Hougaard pounced for another try in the 36th minute as the Bulls opened up a 26-0 advantage by halftime.
The Cheetahs were reduced to 14 men early in the second period when centre Andries Strauss was yellow-carded for pulling the hair of flanker Jacques Potgieter in a ruck.
Prop Werner Kruger claimed the fifth try before wing Bjorn Basson scored the touchdown of the match, bursting clear from 60 metres out.
The Cheetahs refused to give in and replacement prop WP Nel notched two tries.
Fullback Willie le Roux then dived over after a 55-metre charge before flanker Heinrich Brussow showed the pace of a wing to land the fourth try for the visitors.