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All to play for as Super 14 nears climax

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The Crusaders wrapped up top spot going into the Super 14 play-offs but the battle for the remaining three berths stayed wide open after the penultimate round over the weekend.


With one game to play, six teams hold a mathematical chance of joining the Crusaders in the semi-finals after the Lions upset the Chiefs and Waratahs and Stormers battled to a draw.


The Hurricanes and Waratahs are the best prospects for a home semi with the Stormers, Sharks, Blues and Chiefs scrapping it out for fourth spot.


The second-placed Hurricanes and sixth-placed Blues are separated by just four points.


Meanwhile, 12 points clear in the lead, the Crusaders showed the depth of their championship qualities as they came from behind to beat a brave Reds 27-21 Saturday.


With little at stake in the match, the Crusaders had allowed the Reds to build a 21-8 lead with 15 minutes remaining.


But when coach Robbie Deans sent out the message he wanted his side in winning form for the knock-out stage of the competition, the Crusaders upped the tempo and ran in three tries during the closing stages.


The Waratahs slipped from second to third behind the Hurricanes when they were held to a pulsating 13-13 draw by the Stormers.


With scoring opportunities negated by pouring rain throughout the match, the two points earned for the draw could be costly for both sides in their challenge for a home semi-final.


“It feels like a loss,” lamented Stormers captain Jean de Villiers after his side came from 5-6 down at half-time to lead 13-6 before a sideline conversion from Kurtley Beale levelled the scores after a late try by Lote Tuqiri.


The Hurricanes were elevated into second place as they overcame heavy rain, swirling wind and a ferocious defence to beat the Western Force 21-10.


The Blues kept up their charge, taking maximum points by beating the Highlanders 40-15 with Nick Evans in exceptional form as he contributed 23 points from two tries, two conversions and three penalties.


Next week the Blues host the Hurricanes in what will be a virtual quarter-final showdown.


The big losers on the weekend were the Chiefs, who saw their outside chance of a top-four finish all but disappear when they were beaten 33-27 by the bottom-placed Lions, who secured their first win in 11 matches.


The Chiefs paid a heavy price for having prop Ben May sent off on 64 minutes for stamping a grounded opponent in the face.


The offence occurred at the source of a move that finished with wing Lelia Masaga dotting down for a try which was then disallowed because of the incident.


The Chiefs’ final match, and the final match of the regular season, is against the fifth-placed Sharks in Durban, with the winner requiring both the Blues and Stormers to lose if they are to enter the play-offs.


The Sharks collected a crucial five points on the weekend with a brace of late tries from Odwa Ndungane to secure a 33-14 win over the Cheetahs.


Ndungane scored twice in the final two minutes, adding to a hat-trick by flanker Jacques Botes earlier on.


“We live to fight another day,” said captain AJ Venter.


“It wasn’t easy, but we got the five points and that’s all that matters.” In the remaining round 12 match, the Bulls extinguished any faint hopes the Brumbies had of making the playoffs with a 28-17 win in Pretoria.


Sapa-AFP – Super14.com

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