Sharks win away to stay top in Super Rugby
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Sharks were the only team to win away from home in the weekend’s 12th round of Super Rugby, extending their season-long stay atop the table.
The Durban-based Sharks beat Melbourne 22-16 to start a four-match trip to Australia and New Zealand, becoming the first South African team to win outside its country this season. The win moved the Sharks five points clear of the ACT Brumbies, who were beaten 40-20 by the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The Brumbies stayed atop the Australian conference but only by a point from New South Wales, which extended its unbeaten run at home by defeating the Wellington-based Hurricanes 39-30.
The defending champion Chiefs returned to the top of the New Zealand conference with a 38-8 win over South Africa’s Lions.
Crusaders flyhalf Colin Slade kicked 23 points, matching Andrew Mehrtens’ team record, as the Christchurch-based side downed the Brumbies and notched a fourth-straight win.
The Bulls ended a run of four losses with a 26-21 win over the Cheetahs at home in Pretoria and the Stormers edged the Dunedin-based Highlanders 29-28 in Cape Town for their third win of the season.
The Sharks showed important resilience and adaptability by winning in Melbourne, but the harder part of their tour to Australia and New Zealand lies ahead with a match next week against the Brumbies — a clash of first and second-placed teams — before games in New Zealand against the Crusaders and Blues.
At stake is a top-two placing which guarantees home advantage in the playoffs.
J.P. Pietersen scored the Sharks’ only try and flyhalf Frans Steyn kicked a conversion and five penalties in a close and dour contest against Melbourne.
“There’s a lot of talk from other sides (about the difficulty of winning away from home) but it’s our first game and our first win and we only worry about ourselves,” Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis said.
The Crusaders stayed in the top six with an impressive win over the Brumbies in a match between teams who share nine Super Rugby titles.
“I was just pleased with the tenacity, the resilience and the guts tonight,” Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said. “We’ve got to tidy up some areas.
“The defense, especially in the last 15 minutes, leaked some easy yards off the inside pass. We’ve got to get better than that.”
The Chiefs continued to struggle at set pieces but overcame its fractured scrum and uncertain lineout to score six tries to one against the Lions.
“We had a middle period where we didn’t put the foot on the throat and gave away back-to-back penalties which allowed them to get out of the defensive end and frustrate us a little longer,” coach Dave Rennie said. “We know we can be better but it was a step up.”
The Blues kept their unbeaten record at home this season, beating Queensland by five tries to two and dumping the Reds back to 13th place on the ladder.
“I can’t explain how frustrating it is,” Queensland captain James Horwill said. “We know we are better than this and it’s disappointing we’re not putting out performances our fans deserve because they deserve better.”
New South Wales veteran winger Matt Carraro was the unlikely match-winner in a thrilling clash with the Hurricanes, scoring his first try since 2008. The teams matched each other try for try in the first half at the end of which the score was locked at 24-24.
Carraro produced the key try and Stephen Hoiles added another for the Waratahs.
“Over the last year and a half we’ve found ourselves in a few difficult situations and more often than not we’ve come out the right side,” coach Michael Cheika said. “This is probably the biggest hole we’ve been in and we were able to get ourselves out of it.”