The Vodacom Bulls and The Sharks are still in the hunt to qualify for the Vodacom Super Rugby Finals Series, while the DHL Stormers have confirmed their place in the Top Six after a weekend of nailbiting action in two South African derbies.
The bonus point the DHL Stormers got in their 19-16 defeat to the Vodacom Bulls at DHL Newlands on Saturday evening was enough to book them a place in the Finals Series, most likely as winners of the South African Conference, with one league game left.
It was a war of attrition in Cape Town, where the Vodacom Bulls played for survival and managed to win their sixth consecutive game as they aim to qualify for Finals Series. Both the DHL Stormers and the Vodacom Bulls were set on suffocating their opponents with resolute defence in front of a capacity crowd at DHL Newlands, which saw last year’s Vodacom Super 14 Finalists score only one try in the game as their dangerous strike runners got limited opportunities with ball in hand.
The Vodacom Bulls built their victory on pressure, especially in the set piece, and they finally scored in the 65th minute, when scrumhalf Francois Hougaard pounced on a wayward lineout throw by the DHL Stormers to dive over under the posts. DHL Stormers lock Andries Bekker scored in the 79th minute for the home team after a number of phases close to the Vodacom Bulls’ try-line, but it was too little too late as the defending Vodacom Super 14 champions from Pretoria took the four log points on offer.
Vodacom Bulls flyhalf Morné Steyn scored 14 points for the team from Pretoria through four penalty goals and one conversion, as he overtook Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper at the top of the list of overall Vodacom Super Rugby points scorers.
Earlier on Saturday in Johannesburg, The Sharks had to erase a 21 point deficit in the second half against a MTN Lions side who played out of their skins in the first half of their final game of 2011.
The Sharks scored two late tries to come away with a draw against the MTN Lions (30-30). The home team raced ahead to a 20-9 lead at the break, which they extended to 30-9 early in the second half, but the Durbanites never gave up and when flyhalf Pat Lambie converted winger Lwazi Mvovo’s 76th minute try to push his personal points tally for the game up to 20, the scores were level.
Lambie was one of The Sharks’ three try scorers, along with Mvovo and his wing-partner JP Pietersen, while the MTN Lions’ three tries were scored by two of their veterans – loose forward Cobus Grobbelaar, who got a brace, and scrumhalf Jano Vermaak after a superb run by exciting young fullback Jaco Taute.
The rest of their points came via the boot of flyhalf Butch James, who also got a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on The Sharks’ flanker Keegan Daniel, which saw the MTN Lions pivot cited. He has been cited under Law 10.4 (e) and will appear at a hearing in Johannesburg at 12h00 on Monday 13 June, 2011. The hearing will be chaired by SANZAR Judicial Officer Rob Stelzner.
The Vodacom Bulls and The Sharks are now both on 53 log points in the respective fifth and sixth positions. They play each other on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria in a match which could potentially see one of these teams – the two Vodacom Super 14 Finalists in 2007 – drop out of Qualifier contention. The final league game next weekend will see the DHL Stormers travel to Bloemfontein to face the Toyota Cheetahs.
In other Round 17 results, the Crusaders beat the Blues in a top of the table clash in the New Zealand Conference (23-16), while the Waratahs effectively ended the Highlanders’ hopes of reaching the Finals Series with a 33-7 victory in Sydney.
The Reds snuck a late win over the Western Force in Perth to win the Australian Conference (24-21), the Brumbies beat the Melbourne Rebels by 32-17 in Canberra and the Chiefs and Hurricanes played out to a 18-18 draw in Hamilton on Friday.
MTN Lions 30 The Sharks 30
Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
MTN Lions – Tries: Grobbelaar (2), Vermaak. Conversions: James (3). Penalty goals: James (3).
The Sharks – Tries: Lambie, Pietersen, Mvovo. Conversions: Lambie (3). Penalty goals: Lambie (3).
DHL Stormers 16 Vodacom Bulls 19
DHL Newlands, Cape Town
DHL Stormers – Try: Bekker. Conversion: Duvenage. Penalty goals: Coleman, Duvenage (2)
Vodacom Bulls: – Try: Hougaard. Conversion: Steyn. Penalty goals: Steyn (4).