Super 14 Rugby

Crusaders, Sharks beaten in round of upsets


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South Africa’s Sharks and New Zealand’s Crusaders saw their lengthy winning streaks end in the 10th round of rugby’s Super 14 as a string of upsets reshaped the top of the table.

The Crusaders unbeaten run stopped at eight matches when they were defeated 18-5 by the Chiefs in the first match of the round Friday. With the trend set for surprise results, the Sharks also surrendered their perfect record to the Brumbies, losing 27-21 Saturday.

Those results, followed by wins for the Reds over the Western Force, the Stormers over the Hurricanes and the Waratahs over the Lions, reduced the Crusaders’ championship lead to six points and pushed the Stormers and Waratahs into the top four.

The Chiefs, despite their groundbreaking win over the Crusaders , slipped out of the top four on points differential and the Hurricanes, who regained fourth place in round nine after dropping two places a week earlier, fell back to sixth.

Defeats for the Crusaders and Sharks were surprising but not unforeseeable. Both had shown signs of weaknesses in recent games: the Crusaders in their 20-13 win over the Hurricanes two weeks ago and the Sharks in last round’s 19-17 win over the Highlanders.

The Sharks had looked particularly vulnerable because of their poor offensive record this season – the second-worst in the competition after the last-placed Lions. By the ninth round they had scored only 150 points but had remained unbeaten through eight games because of the quality of their defense.

The Crusaders seemed susceptible to defeat at the hands of any team that confronted them effectively at the breakdown, an area they typically dominate and from which they glean turnovers that allow them to break down defenses.

The Chiefs attacked them and outplayed them in that area on Friday, gaining a majority of breakdown turnovers and hitting the Crusaders’ own defensive line before it had a chance to reorganize.

The Chiefs’ performance was brilliantly led from flyhalf by Stephen Donald, who set up their two first-half tries and kicked the additional points that gave them an 18-0 lead by halftime.

The Crusaders many All Blacks were generally outplayed man-to-man and the leadership of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was once again questioned as he failed to rally or reorganize his team after halftime.

“I kind of always felt that was brewing,” Chiefs coach Ian Foster said of the upset win.

“We’d been building for it, I think, and what I’m really proud of in that game was that we didn’t play especially well, we were solid, yet we managed to shut them out of the game.”

The Sharks were picked off on Saturday by a Brumbies team which superbly controlled and maintained possession through the second half after trailing 18-7 at halftime. Fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper scored two tries and Mark Gerrard capitalized on the Sharks’ indiscipline with two penalties.

“It was stupid play on our behalf, we gave away too many penalties, we got under the referee’s skin and the game changed,” Sharks coach Dick Muir said.

“Discipline cost us and there’s no excuse. But it’s not a train smash for us. We like to win and we know how to play.”

The Waratahs 26-3 win over the Lions, achieved after a scoreless first half, lifted them to third place while the Stormers’ 20-12 win over the Hurricanes boosted them to fourth, leaving two South African, one New Zealand and one Australian team in the top four.

Nine teams, down to the Western Force who dropped to ninth with 24 points, remain in playoff contention with four rounds to go.

The Crusaders face a hard run home with matches against the Blues, Sharks, Reds and Highlanders. The Sharks, similarly, have a tough finish against the Waratahs, Crusaders, Cheetahs and Bulls.

— Weekend summaries:

Chiefs 18 (Sitiveni Sivivatu, Simms Davison tries; Stephen Donald conversion, 2 penalties), Crusaders 5 (Andy Ellis try). HT, 18-0.

Reds 29 (Leroy Houston, Morgan Turinui, Andrew Walker tries, Clinton Schifcofske 4 penalties, conversion), Western Force 12 (Cameron Shepherd 4 penalties). HT, 13-12.

Waratahs 26 (Phil Waugh, Dean Mumm, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Adam Freier tries, Kurtley Beale 3 conversions), Lions 3 (Jano Vermaak penalty). HT, 0-0.

Brumbies 27 (Adam Ashley-Cooper 2, Julian Salvi tries, Mark Gerrard 3 conversions, 2 penalties), Sharks 21 (Ryan Kankowski, Francois Steyn tries, Rory Kockott conversion, Kockott, Ruan Pienaar penalties, Steyn dropped goal). HT, 18-7 Sharks.

Bulls 47 (Zane Kirchner 2, Akona Ndungane 2, J.P. Nel, Pedrie Wanneburg tries; Morne Steyn 4 conversions; 3 penalties), Highlanders 17 (Chris King, Tom Donnelly tries; James Wilson 2 conversions; penalty).HT, 28-3.

Stormers 20 (Andries Bekker, Schalk Brits tries; Peter Grant 2 conversions; 2 penalties), Hurricanes 12 (Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith tries; Jimmy Gopperth conversion). HT, 10-0.

Sapa-AP –

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