Brumbies snatch Super 15 win to stay ahead of Chiefs
SYDNEY (AFP) –
ACT Brumbies squeaked home after a contentious late penalty gave them a narrow win over the Northern Bulls, keeping the Australian side in front of champions Waikato Chiefs at the top of the Super 15 table.
The Brumbies needed an after-the-siren penalty goal from Christian Lealiifano to down South Africa’s Bulls 23-20 to take back the overall competition lead from the Chiefs after their New Zealand derby win over the Auckland Blues.
Last year’s champions the Chiefs, who beat the Coastal Sharks in the 2012 final, came out on top of a passionate clash with the Blues 23-16 to maintain their five-point lead in the New Zealand conference.
The Sharks still lead the South African conference after their weekend bye but the Central Cheetahs closed to within three points and are in the playoff positions after a comfortable 34-16 win over the troubled Melbourne Rebels.
Australia’s Queensland Reds secured their first-ever win in Dunedin with a 34-33 success over the Otago Highlanders, while the Canterbury Crusaders survived a late Western Stormers onslaught to win a thriller 19-14 in Cape Town.
The Wellington Hurricanes notched up their third consecutive win with a 46-30 victory over South Africa’s Southern Kings to keep in touch for the playoffs, while the NSW Waratahs play Western Force in an Australian derby later Sunday.
There was controversy in Canberra where Lealiifano kicked the Brumbies home after a disputed penalty following the fulltime siren.
The Bulls had levelled the scores at 20-20 only minutes earlier before referee Jonathon White penalised Bulls captain Pierre Spies for not releasing the ball in a ruck.
Television replays showed Brumbies scrum-half Nic White lying over the ball to indicate that the South African side should instead have been awarded the penalty.
At Mount Maunganui, Liam Messam led a steadfast defence to guide the Chiefs to victory over the Blues.
Scoring in the first half was restricted to penalties as the defending champions turned 9-6 ahead, going on to score two tries in the second half to the Blues’ one.
Seven-time Super winners the Crusaders trailed early and fended off a Stormers’ rally to take the points at Newlands.
The Cape Town team threw everything at the Crusaders, but one brave tackle after another kept them at bay and the game ended when full-back Joe Pietersen was bundled into touch tantalisingly close to the try-line.
Despite missing the unavailable Dan Carter and injured Israel Dagg and Kieran Read and losing prop Owen Franks early on, Crusaders once again excelled at Newlands with a fifth triumph in 10 visits.
Queensland claimed their fifth win from seven outings to stay firmly in the top six while the Highlanders languish at the bottom of the table with no wins to show for their big spending in the off-season.
The decision to splash out on buying veteran internationals Tony Woodcock, Brad Thorn and Ma’a Nonu to boost their All Blacks stocks to nine, has yet to pay dividends and the Highlanders are the only team to have lost every game.
In Bloemfontein, the Cheetahs, who won three matches on their recent Australasian tour, went to the break against the Rebels 10-6 ahead after wasting several try-scoring chances, but ran in four second half tries for a bonus-point triumph.
The Rebels showed a big improvement after a 64-7 hiding from the Sharks last weekend and the sending home of backs Kurtley Beale and Cooper Vuna following a team bus incident in which captain and No. 8 Gareth Delve was hit.
The Hurricanes’ six-try victory capped a dismal fortnight in New Zealand for the Kings, who were whipped 55-20 by the Crusaders last week and now head to Australia to face the Brumbies next week.