The DHL Stormers topped the Vodacom Super Rugby log for the first time and will be joined in the Finals Series by two other South African teams as the Vodacom Bulls and The Sharks also qualified for the playoffs.
The DHL Stormers, who fired hot and cold in their 26-21 win over the Rebels in Cape Town, will enjoy a bye next weekend while the Vodacom Bulls and The Sharks will have to travel to Australasia to face the Crusaders and the Reds respectively.
The Sharks played some sublime rugby in the second half against the Toyota Cheetahs. The KwaZulu-Natalians turned a 6-15 half-time deficit into a victory by 34-15. They travel to Brisbane next weekend to take on the defending champions, the Reds, in the Qualifiers.
At Loftus Versfeld, the Vodacom Bulls also didn’t concede a solitary point after the break – they beat the MTN Lions by 37-20 after the scores were tied at 20-all at the break. The three-time champions from Pretoria will face the seven-time champion Crusaders in Christchurch in the other Qualifier.
The Vodacom Bulls’ qualifier will take place at 09h35 on Saturday, July 21 in Christchurch and The Sharks will play on the same day at 11h40 in Brisbane.
For the Toyota Cheetahs and the MTN Lions the season finished on a bit of a low note as they both lost their final matches of 2012.
In the Australian Conference, the Brumbies tripped over the last hurdle against the Blues (30-16) and were overtaken at the death of the league phase by the defending champions, the Reds, who topped their log after a great win over the Waratahs (32-16).
Sadly for the team from Canberra, coached by former Springbok mentor Jake White and who set the pace in Australia since the beginning of the season, they missed out on a place in the playoffs by one log point. A solitary bonus point in their defeat against the Blues would’ve been enough to put the Brumbies in the Finals Series, but it was not to be.
In New Zealand, the Chiefs were crowned champions while the Crusaders also made the Finals Series for the second successive season.
Out of the six teams that contested the Finals Series last year, four are back – the DHL Stormers, Crusaders, Reds and Sharks. The Waratahs and Blues make way for the Chiefs and Vodacom Bulls in the top six.
DHL Stormers 26 (16) Rebels 21 (0)
The Chiefs’ last-minute defeat on Friday meant the DHL Stormers only needed a win against the Rebels to move to first spot on the log, which they duly did at DHL Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon.
The DHL Stormers won by 26-21, but yet again they struggled to put together a complete performance. The two tries the Capetonians scored were the fewest ever conceded by the Rebels against a South African team. But it was also the team from Melbourne’s eighth consecutive defeat against teams from South Africa.
Interestingly enough, the DHL Stormers went through the entire season without scoring any bonus points for four tries – they are the first side to make the playoffs without getting a try-scoring bonus point.
Furthermore, the 28 tries scored by the DHL Stormers are the least by any team in the competition this year. They conceded three against the Rebels to push the try count against them up to 21 – also the fewest in Vodacom Super Rugby in 2012.
Juan de Jongh got a brace for the DHL Stormers against the Rebels, while Peter Grant added 16 points with the boot through two conversions and four penalty goals. He didn’t miss a single shot at goal and pushed his season tally up to a superb 45 from 48 kicks at goal.
DHL Stormers – Tries: Juan de Jongh (2). Conversions: Peter Grant (2). Penalty goals: Grant (4).
Rebels – Tries: Rodney Blake, Nick Phipps, Cooper Vuna. Conversions: Julian Huxley (3).
The Sharks 34 (6) Toyota Cheetahs 15 (15)
A superb second-half performance by The Sharks was enough to book their place in the Vodacom Super Rugby Finals Series as they beat the Toyota Cheetahs by 34-15 at Mr Price Kings Park in Durban on Saturday afternoon.
At the break, the visitors were still in the lead by 15-6, but the KwaZulu-Natalians moved into a higher gear as they “won” the second half by an impressive 28-0, scoring four converted tries in the process.
Interestingly all three The Sharks’ starting loose forwards, Keegan Daniel, Marcell Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski, got on the score sheet, while Charl McLeod (scrumhalf) got their other try.
Their defence was also very solid, for a second consecutive week since the June Test break. Last week against the Vodacom Bulls they conceded one try and on Saturday The Sharks kept a clean sheet against a Toyota Cheetahs side that have shown they can score tries this year.
The Sharks were disrupted with a few changes before kickoff, but once they settled in the second half – coupled with an injury to the Toyota Cheetahs’ livewire loose forward Heinrich Brüssow – the Durbanites found their groove and booked their spot in the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
The Sharks – Tries: Keegan Daniel, Charl McLeod, Marcell Coetzee, Ryan Kankowski. Conversions: Fred Michalak (4). Penalty goals: Michalak (2).
Toyota Cheetahs – Penalty goals: Riaan Smit (5).
Vodacom Bulls 37 (20) MTN Lions 20 (20)
The Vodacom Bulls made the Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs for the sixth time in eight years when they beat the MTN Lions by 37-20 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria to finish fifth on the log in 2012.
Last year the Vodacom Bulls missed out by losing their final match, against The Sharks, but they didn’t make the same mistake this year, making sure three South African sides progress to the knock-out phase of the competition.
The Pretorians scored four tries but could not convert at least three other try-scoring opportunities, making too many unforced errors in the process.
Akona Ndungane got an intercept try in the first half while his wing-partner for the Vodacom Bulls, Bjorn Basson, got his 10th try of the season when he ran a great line off Francois Hougaard.
Basson set a new Bulls record for the most tries in a season with this five-pointer and is the joint-leader with the Hurricanes’ Andre Taylor for the most tries in 2012.
The MTN Lions fought back with tries to Michael Bondesio and Josh Strauss before the break, but in the second half Hougaard and Jacques Potgieter scored for the home side to put them firmly back into the lead.
Morné Steyn added 17 points to finish the season as the top points’ scorer with 225 – one more than Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs.
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Akona Ndungane, Bjorn Basson, Francois Hougaard, Jacques Potgieter. Conversions: Morné Steyn (4). Penalty goals: Steyn (3).
MTN Lions – Tries: Michael Bondesio, Josh Strauss. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalty goals: Jantjies (2).
Other results – Round 18:
Hurricanes 28 Chiefs 25 (Wellington)
Brumbies 16 Blues 30 (Canberra)
Crusaders 38 Force 24 (Christchurch)
Reds 32 Waratahs 16 (Brisbane)