Three wins and only one defeat against Australasian opposition meant the last round of Vodacom Super Rugby was the best weekend from a South African perspective since round two earlier this year.
However, two of the three wins in the second round were in local derbies. This weekend, only the Vodacom Bulls’ victory over the Toyota Cheetahs was an all-South African affair as the Cell C Sharks and the DHL Stormers clinched victories over Australasian opponents.
In fact, the Cell C Sharks broke a losing run of 13 matches in Australasia for the South African franchises (this includes the Toyota Cheetahs’ defeat in their 2013 Qualifier against the Brumbies in Canberra) when they beat the Rebels by 22-16 in Melbourne on Friday morning.
The worst South African losing run Down Under was from 2005 to 2006, when 17 consecutive matches were lost. Overall, SA teams win 23.8% of their away matches to overseas teams.
On Saturday morning, the Lions were outplayed by the defending champion Chiefs in their tour opener (38-8) in Hamilton, conceding six tries in the process.
But on Saturday afternoon in Cape Town, the DHL Stormers won an eight-try thriller against the Highlanders by 29-28 for only their third win of the season.
The Vodacom Bulls’ 26-21 win – their first in more than a month – over the Toyota Cheetahs in an entertaining but tough derby brought the weekend’s proceedings to an end.
Rebels 16 (6) Cell C Sharks 22 (15)
The Cell C Sharks showed why they belong at the top of the standings after becoming the first South African team to win Down Under in 2014 when they beat the Rebels by 22-16 in Melbourne on Friday morning.
The first half belonged to the two kickers, Frans Steyn and Jason Woodward, whose faultless seven penalty goals between them saw the Cell C Sharks lead the Rebels by 15-6 at the break.
Steyn, starting at flyhalf, kicked 17 points for the visitors from Durban, whose only try was scored by JP Pietersen following a superb counter-attacking move which started deep in their own half.
Pietersen’s try in the 64th minute sparked some life into the match. The Rebels made a step up and six minutes later they scored a somewhat fortuitous try when Pat Leafa went over in the corner.
The conversion put the home team six points behind the Cell C Sharks, who defended like Trojans in the last few minutes as the Rebels put everything into securing only their third-ever win over a South African team, but ultimately came up short.
Rebels: Try: Pat Leafa. Conversion: Jason Woodward. Penalty goals: Woodward (3).
Cell C Sharks: Try: JP Pietersen. Conversion: Frans Steyn. Penalty goals: Steyn (5).
Chiefs 38 (19) Lions 8 (3)
The Lions’ Vodacom Super Rugby tour Down Under started with a 38-8 defeat at the hands of the defending champion Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday morning.
Although the visitors from Johannesburg started the match well and actually took a 3-0 lead early on, the men from Waikato started picking up the pace in the second part of the first half.
The Chiefs grew in confidence and two quick tries before the break, followed by their bonus-point try shortly thereafter, basically saw them sew up the result.
The Lions didn’t go down though and kept on fighting. But apart from Courtnall Skosan’s try in the second half, they failed to breach the Chiefs’ defence.
Although they scrummed very well and had the Chiefs under pressure in this facet, the Lions slipped too many tackles, especially close to their own line and the home team scored two more quick tries toward the end of the match.
The Chiefs have now gone unbeaten at home in 13 matches against teams from South Africa. Their last defeat at home against a team from the Republic was on 28 February 2009 against the Cell C Sharks (22-15), but they drew to the Toyota Cheetahs (25-25) on 23 April 2010.
Chiefs: Tries: Gareth Anscombe, Bundee Aki, Charlie Ngatai, Tim Nanai-Williams, Tanerau Latimer, Pauliasi Manu. Conversions: Anscombe (3), Andrew Horrell.
Lions: Try: Courtnall Skosan. Penalty goal: Elton Jantjies.
DHL Stormers 29 (19) Highlanders 28 (14)
The DHL Stormers stretched their winning run over Highlanders in Vodacom Super Rugby to six victories when they won an exciting match at DHL Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon by 29-28.
It was a highly-entertaining match played in perfect autumn conditions in the Cape where both teams showed attacking intent and ended up scoring four tries each.
It was the DHL Stormers’ first try-scoring bonus point in more than a year and only their second one since beating the Toyota Cheetahs in final round of pool play before the play-offs in 2011.
Three of the DHL Stormers tries were scored in the first half, during which they produced probably their best rugby of the season thus far.
Two of these went to Man of the Match Frans Malherbe. His first came in the second minute after a great start by the Capetonians and he crossed again before the half-hour mark following a superb ‘blind’ pass from Schalk Burger. A couple of minutes later Damian de Allende rounded off a brilliant backline move after the visitors made a hash of a line-out.
In the second half, replacement Oliver Kebble burrowed his way over for the bonus-point try, which gave the DHL Stormers a 26-14 lead with 30 minutes left on the clock.
Like they did in the first half though, the Highlanders never gave up and used their chances. They scored a bunch of great tries – three of which involved clever little kicks inside the DHL Stormers’ 22 – and took a 28-26 lead with 20 minutes to go.
But a Peter Grant penalty and some solid defence late in the match sealed the win for the Capetonians.
DHL Stormers: Tries: Frans Malherbe (2), Damian De Allende, Oliver Kebble. Conversions: Kurt Coleman (3). Penalty goal: Peter Grant.
Highlanders: Tries: Aaron Smith, Trent Renata, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (2), Renata (2).
Vodacom Bulls 26 (9) Toyota Cheetahs 21 (18)
The Vodacom Bulls won a typically hard and entertaining South African Vodacom Super Rugby derby against the Toyota Cheetahs by 26-21 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday afternoon.
It was one of those clichéd “game of two halves” in which the home team managed to work their way back from an 18-9 half-time deficit to win by five points in the end.
Four tries were scored – two by each team. The visitors got both theirs in the first half, when Johann Sadie ran 80m after intercepting with the Vodacom Bulls hot on the attack, and Raymond Rhule later finishing off a superb attacking move.
The Vodacom Bulls could’ve scored a couple of tries in the first half, but again failed to make the most of good attacking positions, a problem they often encountered on their recent Australasian tour.
It was a different story in the second half though as the home team, thanks mainly to converted tries by Paul Willemse and Callie Visagie, fought back.
They also denied the Toyota Cheetahs any further tries and defended very well at the death to record their first win in more than a month.
Vodacom Bulls: Tries: Paul Willemse, Callie Visagie. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalty goals: Pollard (2), Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Jurgen Visser.
Toyota Cheetahs: Tries: Johann Sadie, Raymond Rhule. Conversion: Elgar Watts. Penalty goals: Watts (2), Johan Goosen.
Other results – Round 12:
Blues 44 Reds 15 (Auckland)
Crusaders 40 Brumbies 20 (Christchurch)
Waratahs 39 Hurricanes 30 (Sydney)