Super 14 Rugby

Crusaders march on as Tahs maul Sharks



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The Crusaders forged to a seven-point break at the top of rugby’s Super 14 as consecutive defeats pushed the Sharks to the brink of missing next month’s playoffs.

The six-time champion Crusaders pushed on to a probable home semi-final in the southern hemisphere provincial championship with a nail-biting 26-22 win over fierce New Zealand rivals the Blues in Christchurch on Friday.

While the Crusaders were strengthening their case for the title, South Africa’s Sharks crumbled under the onslaught of the Waratahs to slump from second to joint third.

They are just one point ahead of the Hurricanes with three regular rounds left to play.

More problems are looming for the Sharks with a vexing visit to the Crusaders next Friday where a defeat is expected to plunge them out of the top four for the first time before they return home for their two remaining games.

The Waratahs surged into second place with their thumping 25-10 victory over the Sharks, crowning the night with a four-try bonus point for their fifth straight victory.

New Zealand’s Chiefs outlasted the Reds 32-20 at home on Saturday for maximum points in their fifth consecutive win to join the Sharks on 32 points inside the top four.

The Hurricanes revived their semi-final claims with a six-try 38-10 victory over South Africa’s Cheetahs in Kimberley to be just one point away in equal fifth with the Western Stormers.

The Stormers scored two tries in the second half to down the lowly Highlanders 26-16 at home for their fourth consecutive victory.

The Brumbies leapfrogged the Blues into seventh place and four points out of a playoff position with a last-minute try to snuff out the gutsy Lions 28-21 in Canberra on Friday.

Perth’s Western Force and Pretoria’s Bulls both had the weekend off with byes.

The Crusaders rebounded from the end of their eight-match winning run the previous weekend against the Chiefs to hang on for four tries-to-three victory over the Blues.

The Blues’ semi-final hopes are fast diminishing while the Crusaders, the most successful team in Super rugby, are close to sealing a home playoff after making it nine wins from 10 games this season.

All Black skipper Richie McCaw was one of the heroes for the Crusaders, playing a crucial role in securing their eight to one advantage in turnovers at the breakdown.

The Waratahs produced their best form of the season, knocking the Sharks out of their stride with venomous tackling for an emphatic win after leading 3-0 at halftime.

The Waratahs, who haven’t lost since coach Ewen McKenzie was not re-appointed for next season four matches ago, had the game in their keeping with a 25-3 buffer into the final minutes before the Sharks got a consolation try through winger Odwa Ndungane.

Number eight Wycliffe Palu scored a barnstorming double and monstered the Sharks with some thunderous hits, including one memorable wincing blow, snapping veteran Springbok forward A.J. Venter’s head back.

Backing up from their courageous win over the Crusaders, the Chiefs raced to a 24-3 lead over the Reds by halftime.

But the Reds turned on the heat in the second half when they piled on 17-unanswered points, narrowing the gap to 20-24 before the Chiefs regained control in the closing stages.

The Hurricanes were unstoppable in keeping alive their playoff hopes, while the Cheetahs remain in second-last place after suffering their ninth defeat.

The Stormers face a tougher obstacle next week at home against the Brumbies, after taking a time to wear down the stubborn Highlanders, while the Brumbies had to pull out all stops to get home against the last-placed Lions.

Just when the Johannesburg Lions looked set for a fighting draw, the Brumbies took a quick tap off a short-arm penalty and fly-half Christain Lealiifano scored the winning try under the crossbar.

Sapa-AFP –

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