Super 14 Rugby

Gutsy Stormers move in to fourth place


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The Stormers beat the Hurricanes 20-12 in their Super 14 match at Newlands on Saturday in a compelling match that showed everything that makes rugby the game it is.

That, in a season of boardroom squabbles and largely below-par performances by the South African franchises, was perhaps as important as seeing a second South African side progress to the top four in the Super 14 competition from a South Africa perspective.

It was a victory of guts for the Stormers who were really outplayed for most of the second half, but they did score one of the tries of the season by Schalk Brits, fortuitous because of a lucky bounce, but otherwise one of the season’s very best.

The Hurricanes will feel that they deserved more than accolades from this match.

A bonus point, at least, for their effort and the way they fought back from a 13-0 deficit two minutes after the break and 20-0 after 55 minutes.

Two tries apiece tells the story of the encounter.

It does not however truly reflect the work of Schalk Burger, the brilliance of Luke Watson that often shone through, the efforts of the Hurricanes forwards, with Rodney So’oialo in particular catching the eye, or the threat of Ma’a Nonu and Hosea Gear at the back.

On a weekend of surprises, the Sharks lost their cool in the second half and also the match after playing some of their best rugby of the season in the first half against the Brumbies in Sydney.

They can probably blame much of their 27-21 defeat on the whistle of referee Bryce Lawrence.

An upset Sharks captain Johann Muller admitted as much: “In the second half our discipline was defective and we gave away too many penalties and free kicks, and you can’t play with 14 men on the field.”

The Sharks, up 18-7 at the break, out-scrummed, out-jumped and outplayed the home side in 40 minutes of good quality rugby – but with only two tries to show for their total domination of the match.

And at two it stayed as a brilliant Ryan Kankowski and Francois Steyn -whose play fluctuated from outstanding to very average – received yellow cards.

The Sharks now have 18 tries in nine matches to reflect on – only the Lions have scored less with 12.

It was a match of lost chances and although there are still four matches to play, the defeat is undoubtedly a setback to their home semifinal aspirations.

The Bulls – at last, one might say – showed glimpses of their potential when they ran in six tries against the Highlanders at Loftus in a rare but clinical performance to beat the Highlanders 47-17.

They scored their first five-pointer from tries when JP Nel went over in the 45th minute.

There was new life in the side, with flyhalf Morne Steyn giving his backs plenty of running opportunities. He was clearly hungry for a game and had a hand in many of the scintillating moves by the Bulls.

It was the Bulls first win after five consecutive defeats, the lowest point being their drubbing of 50-22 last weekend by the Hurricanes at Loftus.

The challenge is now to keep it up for their remaining matches to save some face.

As for the Lions, well they did it again. They were on equal terms at the break after scoreless first half in a match marred by the many handling errors by both sides, before the Waratahs ran in four tries in the second half to win by 26-3.

Squandered chances early on by the Lions may have changed the rest of the proceedings – but then, this has become a malaise they just cannot seem to shake off.

“We seem to go onto the field with the approach to keep the score down rather than aim for a win,” a disappointed captain Ernst Joubert said from Johannesburg, where he is recovering from an operation.

“We play well enough, but just cannot convert,” summing up the Lions’ problems of 2008.

Next weekend’s fixtures are:

Crusaders v Blues,
Brumbies v Lions

Chiefs v Reds,
Waratahs v Sharks,
Cheetahs v Hurricanes,
Stormers v Highlanders

Sapa –

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