Three South African sides occupy places in the top six at the end of the penultimate round of Vodacom Super Rugby action and look set to reach the Finals Series.
The Sharks moved into sixth spot thanks to their impressive 32-10 victory over the Vodacom Bulls on Friday evening, with the side from Pretoria dropping one spot on the Combined Log to fifth.
The DHL Stormers not only closed the gap at the top on the Chiefs after they overcame the elements in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon to beat the Toyota Cheetahs by 13-6, but they also secured the South African Conference title for the second successive season.
The MTN Lions won their third match of the season when they rallied at the end to beat the Rebels by 37-32 in Johannesburg on Saturday evening.
The Sharks 32 (20) Vodacom Bulls 10 (3)
Striking when it mattered most, The Sharks moved back into playoff contention with a great 32-10 Vodacom Super Rugby win over the Vodacom Bulls at Mr Price Kings Park in Durban on Friday evening.
The KwaZulu-Natalians outscored the three-time champions by four tries to one as they dominated every facet of play. The foundation however was laid up front, where The Sharks' pack held the upper hand in the tight phases and on the ground.
The Sharks scored two tries in the first half as Bismarck du Plessis and JP Pietersen crashed over. They held a 20-3 half-time lead and all but had the game in the bag at that stage.
When Keegan Daniel went over early in the second half, the bonus point was in their sights, but it still took The Sharks until the 79th minute for Louis Ludik to score that vital fourth try.
At that stage the Vodacom Bulls had scored their only try of the game, by Zane Kirchner, but they simply never looked like really threatening The Sharks as they made way too many unforced errors. With a pack in reverse, it wasn't that surprising though.
The Sharks take on the Toyota Cheetahs in Durban next weekend.
The Sharks – Tries: Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen, Keegan Daniel, Louis Ludik. Conversions: Fred Michalak (2), Meyer Bosman. Penalty goals: Michalak, Frans Steyn.
Vodacom Bulls – Try: Zane Kirchner. Conversion: Morne Steyn. Penalty goal: Steyn.
Toyota Cheetahs 6 (3) DHL Stormers 13 (3)
The DHL Stormers are yet again South African Conference champions in Vodacom Super Rugby thanks to their 13-6 victory over the Toyota Cheetahs at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.
The Capetonians were chasing a four-try bonus point, but unseasonal rain put paid to those plans. The conditions were terribly cold and wet in Bloemfontein, reducing the contest to one in which the team that had the best defence and made the least mistakes won.
Yet again that was the DHL Stormers, who also scored the only try of the game, at a stage when the Toyota Cheetahs were reduced to 14 men because of a yellow card to Willie le Roux for a professional foul.
Moments before Le Roux returned to the field, the DHL Stormers won back their own restart and from the ensuing play, Peter Grant deftly chipped into no-man’s land where Gio Aplon gathered to cross untouched.
Apart from this magical little play, the match was an arm wrestle where the two flyhalves, Grant and Riaan Smit, each kicked two penalty goals. Smit also missed twice, but even if he had slotted those, it’s difficult to see how the DHL Stormers would have lost.
The DHL Stormers host the Rebels in Cape Town next weekend.
Toyota Cheetahs – Penalty goals: Riaan Smit (2).
DHL Stormers – Try: Gio Aplon. Conversion: Peter Grant. Penalty goals: Grant (2).
MTN Lions 37 (24) Rebels 32 (7)
The Rebels are still winless against South African opposition after the MTN Lions won the very first Vodacom Super Rugby encounter between these sides by 37-32 at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon.
It was an entertaining clash in which each team scored four tries, with the home side getting three in the first half, including a brace by Derick Minnie, but then losing their rhythm in the second spell during which time they conceded three five-pointers.
Leading 24-7 at the break, it looked like the MTN Lions were going to run away with it, but the Rebels fought back and with less than 10 minutes left in the match, the Melbournians were actually ahead by 32-27.
But the Joburgers got their momentum back towards the end of the match. A try in the corner by Jaco Kriel, masterfully converted by Elton Jantjies – who was successful with each of his seven kicks at goal – as well as a last-minute penalty goal by the MTN Lions flyhalf, but the result beyond any doubt.
It was the MTN Lions’ third win of the season and the second time in 2012 where they got a try-scoring bonuns point. They travel to Pretoria to face the Vodacom Bulls in the final league fixture of 2012 next weekend.
MTN Lions – Tries: Waylon Murray, Derick Minnie (2), Jaco Kriel. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4). Penalty goals: Jantjies (3).
Rebels – Tries: Ged Robinson, Hugh Pyle (2), James Hilgendorf. Conversions: Julian Huxley (3). Penalty goals: Huxley (2).
Other results – Round 17:
Chiefs 21 Crusaders 28 (Hamilton)
Reds 19 Highlanders 13 (Dunedin)
Blues 32 Force 9 (Auckland)
Waratahs 15 Brumbies 19 (Sydney)