Brumbies stumble as Chiefs close in on Super 15 lead
SYDNEY (AFP) –
Australia’s ACT Brumbies lost their unbeaten start to the Super 15 season as holders Waikato Chiefs closed the gap with the frontrunners in this weekend’s round of matches.
Western Stormers dented the Brumbies’ four-game run with a 35-22 victory in Cape Town to spice up the rivalry with four teams in the mix for the South African conference title.
While the Brumbies faltered, the Chiefs retained top spot in the New Zealand conference and trail the competition leaders by just two points in the overall southern hemisphere provincial championship standings.
The Chiefs beat the Otago Highlanders 19-7 in Hamilton for their fourth win in five outings.
The Coastal Sharks and Central Cheetahs made it a great weekend for South African teams with wins over Australian opposition.
The Sharks, last season’s finalists, slammed the Melbourne Rebels 64-7 in Durban, while across in Perth the in-form Cheetahs came from behind to beat the Western Force 19-10.
Queensland Reds squeaked home against South Africa’s three-time winners Northern Bulls 23-18 in Brisbane to move to within six points of the Brumbies in the Australian conference.
Meanwhile, the Canterbury Crusaders gained more momentum after a sluggish start to the season with a 55-20 romp over South African newcomers Southern Kings in Christchurch, while the Wellington Hurricanes had the weekend off.
The New South Wales Waratahs were scheduled to face New Zealand’s Auckland Blues in Sydney later Sunday to complete the sixth round of matches.
At Newlands, the Stormers clinched victory with an intercept try by winger Gerhard van den Heever six minutes from time against Jake White’s Brumbies.
Making a rare start in place of injured Bryan Habana, former Northern Bull Van den Heever grasped a long pass from lock Peter Kimlin deep in Stormers’ territory and darted clear.
Fullback Joe Pietersen added the extra points to finish with 15 from three conversions and three penalties.
In a messy game in Hamilton, the Chiefs took the points over the Highlanders through the goalkicking of tournament leading scorer Gareth Anscombe, who slotted a conversion and four penalties.
The Sharks set a club record in tossing aside the Rebels with their 57-point winning margin bettering a 53-11 win over Western Force last season.
Victory came a week after the Sharks sustained a 19-point hiding from the Brumbies at the same venue, which led John Plumtree to make eight starting line-up changes.
In Brisbane, Springbok JJ Engelbrecht had a try disallowed after the full-time siren as the Reds clung on for a tense win over the Bulls.
The Pretoria-based team launched a last-ditch attack and looked poised to level the scores with a conversion attempt to come when Engelbrecht dived over in the left corner.
But he put a foot on the sideline in the desperate covering tackle by winger Chris Feauai-Sautia to deny the Bulls a pulsating victory.
Seven-time Super Rugby champions Canterbury buried their early season lethargy in sounding beating the Kings.
The Crusaders stole lineout balls, used their powerful pack to out-muscle the Kings in the tight and ran the ball to post the first score in excess of 50 points this season.
The Cheetahs showed great character in Perth to fight back for their third straight win on the road over the Force, who controlled play for long periods and looked the likely winners.
The Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs grabbed the lead with successive penalties, before sealing the win with a 77th-minute try to Willie le Roux.