The Vodacom Bulls delivered their top performance of the season as the Emirates Lions recorded their best Vodacom Super Rugby tour yet during an exciting weekend of southern hemisphere rugby.
The match in Pretoria was the undoubted highlight of the weekend from a quality point of view, with the Vodacom Bulls extending their winning run at home over the Crusaders after winning 31-19.
For sheer audacity, the Emirates Lions deserve a lot of plaudits for beating the Reds by 18-17 in Brisbane on Friday morning and thus ending their tour on three wins from four – their best Australasian return yet.
The Cell C Sharks meanwhile moved to the top of the South African Conference and into the top three on the log with a hard-fought 15-9 win over the Force in Durban on Saturday afternoon, scoring all their points in the second half.
The Toyota Cheetahs and DHL Stormers found the going tough in New Zealand though as both went down – the side from Central South Africa by 37-27 to the Chiefs in Hamilton and the Capetonians by 39-21 to the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Reds 17 (3) Emirates Lions 18 (8)
The Emirates Lions have returned to South Africa with three wins from four matches on their Australasian tour, making it their best-ever visit Down Under since the Cats franchise split up after the 2005 season.
The 18-17 win over the Reds at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane may not have been pretty, but Joburg’s Pride and their supporters won’t worry too much about that – winning on the road has been difficult for the Lions in recent years and to get three from four deserves a hat-tip.
Before they embarked on this tour, the Lions had won only five from 35 matches Down Under, or 14%.
As they’ve done for most of the time on this tour, the Emirates Lions defended like machines against the Reds, especially in the second half when the 2011 champions found their groove.
In fact, while the team from Johannesburg won many hearts with their attacking rugby in the last few seasons, it was their efforts on defence in the last month that showed a new balance in the team.
Tries each side of half-time, first by Harold Vorster and then by Warwick Tecklenburg, was the difference for the visitors, while Elton Jantjies kicked what turned out to be the match-winning penalty goal with less than 10 minutes left on the clock.
Reds: Tries: Samu Kerevi, Penalty try. Conversions: Quade Cooper (2). Penalty goal: Cooper.
Emirates Lions: Tries: Harold Vorster, Warwick Tecklenburg. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalty goals: Jantjies (2).
Chiefs 37 (14) Toyota Cheetahs 27 (13)
Heinrich Brüssow scored two tries for the Toyota Cheetahs, but also got yellow carded as they allowed another good first-half performance to turn into defeat in New Zealand.
The Chiefs, two-time champions, started very well with two tries in the first 20 minutes, but the visitors never gave up and fought their way back into the encounter, with two Kiwis spending time in the sin-bin in the first half.
Boom Prinsloo scored the visitors’ first try during this time, but unfortunately the Toyota Cheetahs could not make this numerical advantage count. When Brüssow was sin-binned after the break, 12 minutes after scoring his first try, the Chiefs scored two more to put the result beyond any doubt.
Brüssow scored a second try towards the end of the match which meant that six of the seven tries in this encounter were scored by loose forwards.
Chiefs: Tries: Liam Messam, Michael Leitch, Sam Cane, Andre Horrell. Conversions: Aaron Cruden (4). Penalty goals: Cruden (3).
Toyota Cheetahs: Tries: Heinrich Brüssow (2), Boom Prinsloo. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2), Willie du Plessis. Penalty goals: Pietersen (2).
Highlanders 39 (24) DHL Stormers 21 (7)
The DHL Stormers ran into a rampant Highlanders side in Dunedin on Saturday morning, with the home team recording their first win over the Capetonians since 24 February 2007.
It was a polished performance by the Highlanders, who exploited mistakes on defence by the DHL Stormers, to win their fourth game of the season, while their visitors lost their second successive encounter of 2015 following a slew of uncharacteristic errors.
It was also the DHL Stormers’ biggest defeat in New Zealand in almost six years, since the Hurricanes beat them by 34-11 in 2009.
Juan de Jongh, who took over the captaincy for this match, scored two tries for the visitors. His first opened the scoring in the 19th minute, but it seemed to wake the home team up, who scored three of their own before the break.
The Highlanders got their bonus-point try in the 48th minute and with the score 31-7 to the home team with half an hour to go, it was effectively the end of the DHL Stormers’ charge.
Highlanders: Tries: Waisake Naholo (2), Patrick Osborne, Aaron Smith, Dan Pryor. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (4). Penalty goals: Sopoaga, Marty Banks.
DHL Stormers: Tries: Juan de Jongh (2), Michael Rhodes. Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis, Kurt Coleman (2).
Cell C Sharks 15 (0) Force 6 (9)
The Cell C Sharks’ 15-9 victory over the Force at Growthpoint Kings Park on Saturday afternoon will probably not be remembered for too long, but it was enough to see the KwaZulu-Natalians move into the top three on the log.
The first half was an especially drab affair, with two penalty goals by the visitors’ South African-born flyhalf Sias Ebersohn the only points scored, while unforced errors proved costly for both sides.
Things looked a bit better for the Cell C Sharks in the second half. SP Marais rounded off after a good attacking move in the 43rd minute. The home team’s fullback also played a big role in the 68th minute try of Lwazi Mvovo with a brilliant counter-attacking run off an average kick by the visitors.
The Force had opportunities late in the game, first when Ebersohn missed a sitter in front of the uprights and later when the TMO disallowed a try for obstruction, but they did get a losing bonus-point with a penalty goal at the death.
The battle at the top of the SA Conference log is heating up, with six points separating the top four teams, although the Vodacom Bulls and DHL Stormers both have a match in hand over the Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions.
Cell C Sharks: Tries: SP Marais, Lwazi Mvovo. Conversion: Fred Zeilinga. Penalty goal: Zeilinga.
Force: Penalty goals: Sias Ebersohn (2), Luke Burton.
Vodacom Bulls 31 (18) Crusaders 19 (16)
Two tries in the first 10 minutes set the Vodacom Bulls up to record a very good 31-19 win over the Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday evening, extending their winning run at home over the seven-time champions to five matches.
The home team put the Cantabrians under massive pressure early on and when Francois Hougaard and Burger Odendaal, a late replacement for Jan Serfontein, crossed for tries, the Vodacom Bulls led by 12-0.
The Crusaders clawed their way back though and continued to use their advantage in possession to good effect, but the Vodacom Bulls defended very well and managed to restrict their visitors to only one try in the match.
In fact, the Crusaders could only score three points in the entire second half, while the Vodacom Bulls opened up a gap on the score board thanks to Handré Pollard’s kicking boot and an intercept try by Grant Hattingh, which saw the replacement forward run more than 50 metres before going over.
The Vodacom Bulls’ solid defence forced mistakes from the Crusaders, while the visitors’ discipline gave Pollard a number of opportunities to put points on the board in a very exciting and tough encounter.
Vodacom Bulls: Tries: Francois Hougaard, Burger Odendaal, Grant Hattingh. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalty goals: Pollard (4).
Crusaders: Try: Nemani Nadolo. Conversions: Dan Carter. Penalty goals: Carter (4).
Other results – Round Seven:
Hurricanes 26 Rebels 12
Waratahs 23 Blues 11