It was a rewarding weekend for the South African teams as all five sides qualified for the Round of 16 in the Investec Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup, with the Vodacom Bulls, DHL Stormers and Hollywoodbets Sharks all earning the right to host their playoff matches thanks to crucial victories over the weekend.
The DHL Stormers will host the defending champions, Stade Rochelais, in Cape Town, while the Vodacom Bulls will face Lyon in Pretoria in the Investec Champions Cup.
In the EPCR Challenge Cup, the Hollywoodbets Sharks will host Zebre Parma in Durban, while the Emirates Lions will take on Benetton in Italy and the Toyota Cheetahs will travel to France to take on Clermont Auvergne.
All matches are scheduled for the weekend of 5/6/7 April, with dates, venues and kick-off times to be confirmed in due course.
The Vodacom Bulls held their nerve in a tight encounter against the Bordeaux Begles for a 46-40 victory in Pretoria on Saturday, while the DHL Stormers scored a late try to emerge 24-20 victors against Stade Francais in Paris in the Investec Champions Cup.
In the EPCR Challenge Cup, the Hollywoodbets Sharks registered a significant 29-9 away win against the Dragons in Newport, but it was a disappointing finish to the pool stages for the Toyota Cheetahs, who suffered a heart-breaking 28-27 defeat against Oyannax in France, and the Emirates Lions, who went down 38-28 against Ospreys in Johannesburg.
Vodacom Bulls edge Bordeaux to book playoff spot
The Vodacom Bulls held their nerve in an intense Investec Champions Cup clash against Bordeaux Begles, winning by 46-40 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, where goal kicking proved to be the difference on the scoreboard as both sides scored six tries apiece in the spectacle.
The Pretoria outfit put the first points on the board with Marcell Coetzee scoring the opening try in the sixth minute as Bordeaux were reduced to 14 men after Carlü Sadie received a yellow card, but they hit back minutes later with their first try to level the scores.
The Vodacom Bulls managed to build a handy cushion on the scoreboard soon after as Devon Williams and Coetzee touched down within 10 minutes of one another to go 21-7 up, but a yellow card to Gerhard Steenekamp allowed Bordeaux to fight back with their second try.
The home side, however, had the final say in the half as David Kriel scored their bonus point try on the stroke of halftime for a 26-14 lead.
The visitors fought back with intent in the second half despite an early rally in which the Vodacom Bulls scored first compliments of a try by Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok Willie le Roux. The French side cancelled that out with a try by Madosh Tambwe, and Embrose Papier followed for the South Africans in the 52nd minute. The successful conversion nudged the hosts into an encouraging 40-21 lead.
Bordeaux, however, refused to let the conditions or scoresheet influence them and they finished with a flourish with three tries. The Vodacom Bulls, in turn, were only able to add two more penalty goals by Jaco van der Walt to their score, and in the end those six points proved invaluable in their 46-40 victory.
Vodacom Bulls 46 (26) – Tries: Marcell Coetzee (2), Devon Williams, David Kriel, Willie le Roux, Embrose Papier. Conversions: Johan Goosen (5). Penalty goals: Jaco van der Walt (2).
Bordeaux Begles 40 (14) – Tries: Romain Buros, Adam Coleman, Madosh Tambwe, Tevita Tatafu (2), Paul Abadie. Conversions: Zack Holmes (4), Matéo Garcia.
DHL Stormers pounce on Stade Francais’ ill-discipline
Springbok flyhalf Manie Libbok celebrated his 50th match for the DHL Stormers in style as he scored the match-winning try in their 24-20 Investec Champions Cup victory against Stade Francais at Stade Jean Bouin in Paris on Saturday.
The try came at a crucial time when the hosts lost two players to the sin bin within two minutes, but the fight the DHL Stormers showed to claw their way back after being 20-10 down at a stage will give the team confidence.
Stade Francais wasted no time making their presence felt with a try in the opening minute, but the Capetonians struck back nine minutes later with one of their own by Herschel Jantjies.
Ruben van Heerden added their second minutes later, but a penalty goal in between and another converted try by the hosts in the second quarter saw them enter the break leading by 15-10.
The hosts had the first say in the second half with a try five minutes after play resumed before a host of substitutions by the DHL Stormers injected fresh energy, which paved the way for Hendre Stassen to touch down, and Libbok’s conversion saw them trail by three points.
The French outfit then lost two players to yellow cards with minutes left to play, and Libbok scored the match-winning try with nine minutes to play, which set them up for the 24-20 bonus-point victory, which saw them finish second on their log.
Stade Francais 20 (15) – Tries: Andy Timo, Lester Etien, Mathieu Hirigoyen. Conversion: Joris Segonds. Penalty goal: Segonds.
DHL Stormers 24 (10) – Tries: Herschel Jantjies, Ruben van Heerden, Hendre Stassen, Manie Libbok. Conversions: Libbok (2).
Heartbreak for Toyota Cheetahs against Oyonnax
A late try by Oyonnax three minutes from the final whistle dashed the Toyota Cheetahs’ hopes of a win with a man down from the 18th minute as they went down 28-27 in a thriller of an EPCR Challenge Cup match at Stade Charles Mathon in France on Saturday.
The Bloemfontein team started with a bang with Munier Hartzenberg opening the scoring in the eighth minute, but it wasn’t long before Daniel Kasende received yellow card. The teams were equal in numbers minutes later as Oyonnax lost a man to the sin-bin, and the Toyota Cheetahs added their second try through Marnus van der Merwe for a 12-0 lead.
They suffered a big blow soon after as Hartzenberg was red carded for playing a man in the air, but this did not stop them from adding their third try by veteran Ruan Pienaar.
Things got worse for the Toyota Cheetahs in the 28th minute as Victor Sekekete received a yellow card and this provided Oyonnax the opportunity to score two tries in the last 10 minutes of the half. Pienaar, however, kept the scoreboard ticking with a penalty goal to hand them a 22-14 halftime lead.
The Free Staters came out firing in the second half with Van der Merwe earning his brace two minutes after play resumed to push them 27-14 ahead despite the odds being stacked against them.
Oyonnax, however, kept on fighting and scored a valuable try in the 62nd minute, and they put the final nail in the coffin for the Toyota Cheetahs with three minutes to play as Adrien Bordenave scored, with Jules Soulan slotting the conversion for the 28-27 lead and their first win the competition.
Oyonnax 28 (14) – Tries: Loic Gadener, Filimo Taofifenua, David Odiase, Adrien Bordenave. Conversions: Domingo Miotti (2), Jules Soulan (2).
Toyota Cheetahs 27 (22) – Tries: Munier Hartzenberg, Marnus van der Merwe (2), Ruan Pienaar. Conversions: Pienaar (2). Penalty goal: Pienaar.
Emirates Lions’ ill-discipline costly against Ospreys
The Emirates Lions paid a high price for their ill-discipline against Ospreys at Emirates Airline Park on Sunday as three yellow cards contributed to the team scuppering a 28-17 lead to suffer their second defeat of the EPCR Challenge Cup, going down 38-28 to the Welsh visitors on Sunday.
They will, however, draw some inspiration from the fact that they scored four tries going into the playoff stages.
The Johannesburgers received their first yellow card in the fourth minute, but they still managed to get on the scoresheet first with Sanele Nohamba kicking a penalty goal soon after.
The rest of the half was action-packed with the Emirates Lions scoring three tries – two of which within four minutes – at the end of the half, while they conceded two, which saw the hosts enter the sheds with an 18-14 lead.
The home side started off the second half on the backfoot as Marius Louw received his marching orders, but despite this, each team only managed to add a penalty goal in the following exchanges.
The Emirates Lions worked themselves into a good position to clinch a possible victory as they scored their bonus-point try in the 55th minute when Morne van den Berg crossed the chalk, but this was short-lived as Hanru Sirgel received a yellow card, which allowed Ospreys to force their way back, and they did just that, touching down three times within in six minutes in the closing minutes for the 38-28 victory.
Emirates Lions 28 (18) – Tries: Marius Louw (2), JC Pretorius, Morne van den Berg. Conversion: Sanele Nohamba. Penalty goals: Nohamba (2).
Ospreys 38 (14) – Tries: Owen Watkin, George North, Keelan Giles, Cameron Jones, Morgan Morse. Conversions: Dan Edwards (2), Jack Walsh (3). Penalty Goal: Edwards.
Hollywoodbets Sharks earn vital away win in Wales
Fantastic finishing in the closing minutes of each half saw the Hollywoodbets Sharks wrap up the pool stages their EPCR Challenge Cup campaign with a rewarding 29-9 victory against the Dragons at Rodney Parade in Newport on Sunday night.
The match started off slowly with the only points in the first 21 minutes being two penalty goals by the hosts, but the KwaZulu-Natalians found their rhythm and scored tries by Rugby World Cup winners, Jaden Hendrikse and Ox Nche, before halftime to take a 12-6 lead.
The Dragons added their third penalty goal shortly before the fourth quarter, which proved to be their last points of the match.
The Hollywoodbets Sharks, in turn, got a spring in their step in the closing 10 minutes which saw Gerbrandt Grobler, Le Roux Roets and Werner Kok touch down for the convincing 29-9 win – with two of the tries being scored while the hosts were down to 14 men after Rodrigo Martinez received a yellow card.
The victory for the Durbanites saw them finish the pool stages as the top team in their pool by an impressive five points with three wins in their four matches.
Dragons 9 (6) – Penalty Goals: Cai Evans (3).
Hollywoodbets Sharks 29 (12) – Tries: Jaden Hendrikse, Ox Nche, Gerbrandt Grobler, Le Roux Roets, Werner Kok. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2).