It was a weekend of Vodacom Super Rugby firsts, doubles and good-byes as the DHL Stormers consolidated their place at the top of the South African Conference.
The weekend started on a false note for the Vodacom Bulls on Friday though, as they came up short by 22-16 in their third tour match, in Canberra against the Brumbies.
The Cell C Sharks won their second consecutive match against Aussie opposition when they beat the Rebels by 25-21 in Durban on Friday evening. It was the KwaZulu-Natalians’ fourth win over the side from Melbourne, who is still winless after five seasons of coming to South Africa.
Saturday’s derby in Cape Town between the DHL Stormers and Toyota Cheetahs ended in a rather one-sided 42-12 win for the home team as the visitors from Bloemfontein bid farewell to their coach, Naka Drotské, after eight seasons and 118 matches in charge of the Men from Central South Africa.
Only three coaches – Frans Ludeke of the Cats and Vodacom Bulls, Ewen McKenzie (Waratahs, Reds) Robbie Deans (Crusaders) coached in more matches than Drotské, who guided the Cheetahs to a spot in the top six two seasons ago.
The final match of the weekend was a real humdinger as the Emirates Lions got their first-ever win as a franchise over the defending champion Waratahs, by 27-22 in Johannesburg, their ninth victory of the season in their final home encounter of 2015.
No fewer than six players – two South Africans and four Aussies – scored a brace of tries this weekend. They are Seabelo Senatla (DHL Stormers), Ruan Combrinck (Emirates Lions), Henry Speight (Brumbies), Scott Higginbotham (Rebels), Quade Cooper (Reds) and Lachie Turner (Reds).
Blitzbok star Senatla scored his first try at Vodacom Super Rugby level, as did his DHL Stormers teammate Vincent Koch and Heimar Williams from the Cell C Sharks.
Brumbies 22 (8) Vodacom Bulls 16 (6)
The Vodacom Bulls’ recent struggles in Australasia continued on Friday morning when they lost a tough scrap by 22-16 against the Brumbies in Canberra.
It was their 10th consecutive tour defeat and the Men from Pretoria will now have to rely on other teams if they are going to qualify for the playoffs for the eighth time since 2005.
Although the Vodacom Bulls led by 6-0 after the first quarter, a try for the home team by Jordan Smiler meant the Brumbies were in front by 8-6 at the break – a lead they surrendered briefly early in the second half when Handré Pollard slotted his third penalty goal.
But two Henry Speight tries in the first 20 minutes of the second half gave the home team a comfortable 22-9 lead going into the final quarter.
The Bulls hit back with a five-pointer from a line-out drive by Lappies Labuschagne, but the visitors ran out of plans late in the match while the Brumbies’ defence held firm as they cemented their place in the top six with two rounds of league action remaining.
Brumbies: Tries: Henry Speight (2), Jordan Smiler. Conversions: Christian Lealiifano (2). Penalty goal: Lealiifano.
Vodacom Bulls: Try: Lappies Labuschagne. Conversion: Handré Pollard. Penalty goals: Pollard (3).
Cell C Sharks 25 (10) Rebels 21 (7)
The Cell C Sharks took the points after beating the Rebels by 25-21 at Growthpoint Kings Park in Durban on Friday night, but the match won’t be remembered for too long.
The Rebels had to play with 14 men for more than 50 minutes after their tighthead prop Laurie Weeks was red-carded for punching Jannie du Plessis, who got a yellow for a lesser infringement in the same incident.
Apart from these cards, the first half will only be remembered for S’bura Sithole’s strong burst for the opening try of the match. Unfortunately both sides made far too many unforced errors and the encounter lacked real structure.
The home team added two memorable tries early in the second half which all but secured the win for them, but they still had to dig deep in the final half hour.
First Lwazi Mvovo intercepted shortly after the break and ran 75 metres to score in the corner before Heimar Williams scored one of the tries of the season after a brilliant solo-run of more than 50 metres, beating a number of Rebels defenders in the process.
The Rebels hit back through Scott Higginbotham’s second try after the Sharks made a number of defensive errors and the visitors got their third when Bryce Hegharty went over with five minutes left, but the home team hung in for their second win in as many weeks over Aussie team.
Cell C Sharks: Tries: S’bura Sithole, Lwazi Mvovo, Heimar Williams. Conversions: Lionel Cronje (2). Penalty goals: Cronje (2).
Rebels: Tries: Scott Higginbotham (2), Bryce Hegharty. Conversions: Jack Debreczeni (3).
DHL Stormers 42 (23) Toyota Cheetahs 12 (7)
The DHL Stormers all but secured the South African Conference title with a 42-12 victory over the Cheetahs at DHL Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon.
The Capetonians only need three more log points from their last two Vodacom Super Rugby matches to secure their third SA Conference title after they scored five tries en route to a comprehensive victory over the team from Central South Africa.
It was only their second try-scoring bonus-point of the season, but it came just at the right time for the DHL Stormers who balanced out their usual solid defensive play with moments of great attack.
Seabelo Senatla scored both his tries in the first half, showing great power on both occasions, but unfortunately for Nizaam Carr, playing in his 50th Vodacom Super Rugby match in the colours of the DHL Stormers, his ‘try’ late in the first half was disallowed after the TMO spotted an earlier infringement.
Cheetahs flank Boom Prinsloo crashed over from a line-out drive in the first half and Carel Greeff did the same in the second, but three more tries by the home side after the break, by Damian de Allende, Vincent Koch and Sikhumbuzo Notshe, ensured the DHL Stormers got the full-haul of five points from this derby.
DHL Stormers: Tries: Seabelo Senatla (2), Damian de Allende, Vincent Koch, Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis (4). Penalty goals: Catrakilis (3).
Toyota Cheetahs: Tries: Boom Prinsloo, Carel Greeff. Conversion: Joe Pietersen.
Emirates Lions 27 (17) Waratahs 22 (10)
The Emirates Lions, sticking to their ball in hand approach, beat the Waratahs for the first time ever as a franchise when they won an entertaining Vodacom Super Rugby match at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg by 27-22 on Saturday evening.
The home team started like a house on first when Ruan Combrinck went over for his first try in the sixth minute, but the Waratahs fought back to a 10-7 lead after 18 minutes courtesy of a try by Stephen Hoiles and a conversion and penalty goal by Bernard Foley.
It was 10-all when Combrinck scored his second try late in the first half – the Waratahs were down to 14 men at this stage with Rob Horne in the sin-bin for an illegal tackle – converted by Elton Jantjies who also added an earlier penalty goal, which meant the Lions held a 17-10 lead at the break.
Jantjies added three more shortly after the break, before Jacques Potgieter got the visitors’ second yellow card early in the second half for yet another an illegal tackle. With the Waratahs down a man yet again, Combrinck put Harold Vorster away for the Lions’ third try, which saw them take a commanding 27-10 lead into the final half hour.
The Waratahs hit back with tries by Adam Ashley-Cooper and Horne during an impressive 10 minutes midway through the second half, but the home team’s defence held firm as the recorded an impressive win over the defending champions from Sydney.
Emirates Lions: Tries: Ruan Combrinck (2), Harold Vorster. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalty goals: Jantjies (2).
Waratahs: Tries: Stephen Hoiles, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne. Conversions: Bernard Foley (2). Penalty goal: Foley.
Other results – Round 16:
Crusaders 35 Hurricanes 18
Highlanders 36 Chiefs 9
Force 10 Reds 32