Hurricanes lead Super Rugby, Stormers beat ACT Brumbies
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The Hurricanes extended their lead in Super Rugby as a 72nd-minute try by lock Jeremy Thrush clinched a four-try bonus point and a harder-than-expected 32-24 win over the struggling Sharks on Saturday.
The Wellington-based Hurricanes led 14-10 at halftime at home, but fell behind twice in the second half through tries to Sharks wingers S’bura Sithole and Odwa Ndungane.
Thrush’s try and another to replacement prop Reggie Goodes ultimately sealed their 10th win from 11 games, and opened a 10-point lead over the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference.
South Africa’s Stormers beat the ACT Brumbies 25-24 to go second overall after Brumbies flyhalf Christian Leali’ifano inexplicably missed a conversion from in front of the posts following David Pocock’s late try. The kick would have given the Australian visitors victory in an intense battle and kept them second overall.
In Perth, the defending champion New South Wales Waratahs’ playoff hopes were dented with an 18-11 loss at the Western Force. And the Lions of South Africa came back from 20-3 down at halftime in Johannesburg for a 28-23 win over New Zealand’s Highlanders — two other teams chasing a playoff place with five rounds to go.
While the Hurricanes, Stormers and ACT lead their national conferences, the Chiefs, Highlanders and Bulls hold the final three playoff positions. The two-time champion Chiefs and three-time champion Bulls had a bye weekend.
For the Hurricanes, James Marshall, who started for the first time this season in the absence of injured All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett, kicked two late penalties to inflate the winning margin and deny the Durban-based Sharks a consolation bonus point.
The Sharks slumped to their fifth consecutive loss. They had almost 70 percent of territory and 60 percent of possession in the first half but managed only one try through hooker Bismarck du Plessis. The Hurricanes scored tries through winger Cory Jane and captain Conrad Smith.
“I was impressed with the composure,” Smith said. “We were always calm when we were behind our posts, and we knew we’d worked on things right.”
The small crowd included Britain’s Prince Harry, in New Zealand on a short official visit.
The Force, playing with only 14 men in the final stages after captain Matt Hodgson was sent off in the 70th, posted just their second win, both of them against the Waratahs. Hodgson crossed for the Force, as did halfback Ryan Louwrens.
The Stormers started slowly at home in Cape Town, surrendering a turnover try to ACT winger Joe Tomane to trail 16-9 at halftime. Springboks flanker Schalk Burger powered over in the second as the Stormers’ forwards ground out some superiority in a game marked by frequent confrontations between the teams. Flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis kicked 20 points to see the home team claw their way back.
But the Brumbies still should have won after flanker Pocock broke off the back of a lineout and went over with seven minutes to go to pull the Brumbies to within one at 25-24. Leali’ifano, faced with a simple conversion, sent his kick rebounding off the left post.
“Proud of the effort, but we’ve had too many narrow losses this year,” Brumbies captain Stephen Moore said.
The Lions scored 25 points in the second half to the Highlanders’ three to stun the visitors.
A try by Gareth Evans and a 70-meter breakaway score by All Blacks center Malakai Fekitoa had put the Dunedin-based Highlanders firmly in control.
The Lions then launched their latest of many second-half comebacks this season, with winger Courtnall Skosan, flanker Jaco Kriel, and center Harold Vorster all crossing. Replacement flyhalf Elton Jantjies’ two conversions and late penalty sealed a seventh win in 12 for the Lions.