The Sharks will travel to Cape Town for an all-South African Vodacom Super Rugby semi-final against the DHL Stormers after they eliminated the Reds in their qualifier in Brisbane on Saturday afternoon.
The KwaZulu-Natalians reached the semi-finals for the first time since 2008 when they beat the Reds by 30-17. This was only the 11th away victory out of 62 knock-out matches in the history of Vodacom Super Rugby.
However, the Vodacom Bulls bowed out of the competition when they were beaten by a brilliant Crusaders team in Christchurch in the fifth playoff match between these sides. The Cantabrians won by 28-13 and will travel to Hamilton next week where they will face the Chiefs in the first semi-final on Friday.
The Hamilton semi-final between the New Zealand Conference winners, the Chiefs, and the Crusaders will kick off at 09h35 (SA time) on Friday, 27 July.
The semi-final at DHL Newlands in Cape Town between the DHL Stormers, who won the South African Conference and finished top of the overall standings, and The Sharks is scheduled for 17h05 on Saturday, 28 July.
To illustrate how little there is to pick between the four teams that will contest the semi-finals, look at the results in their derbies this year. The DHL Stormers beat the Sharks by 15-12 in Cape Town in round two and then lost by 20-25 in Durban in round 14.
The Chiefs beat the Crusaders by 24-19 in Christchurch in round three and recently lost in Hamilton by 28-21 in round 17.
Reds 17 (10) The Sharks 30 (20)
The Sharks ensured a new Vodacom Super Rugby champion will be crowned this year when they beat the defending champion Reds by 30-17 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday afternoon.
With their pack setting the tone, The Sharks’ backs followed suit. The visitors from Durban were rampant in the first half and scored their first two tries, by JP Pietersen and Paul Jordaan, in the opening 25 minutes.
Pietersen crossed in the corner after a surging attack upfield by The Sharks that involved superb handling and angled running.
Jordaan, who last month was part of the South African Under-20 squad that won the Junior World Championship, rounded off after another great attacking move where he got the ball on the wing and stepped inside to score untouched under the sticks.
Charl McLeod got The Sharks’ third try when he intercepted and ran 60m to score under the uprights early in the second half. At 27-10, the match was all but sealed by the visitors.
Their defence was also superb and the Reds were not afforded the space to launch any attacks. Will Genia scored their first try very late in the first half and Radike Samo got their second on the stroke of full-time.
To further illustrate how impressive The Sharks’ victory was, one only needs to look at the history of playoff matches in Vodacom Super Rugby. This was the first away-win in four qualifiers, while there were also six away victories out of 32 semi-finals and four from 16 finals.
Reds – Tries: Will Genia, Radike Samo. Conversions: Mike Harris, Genia. Penalty goal: Harris.
The Sharks – Tries: JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Charl McLeod. Conversions: Fred Michalak (3). Penalty goals: Michalak (2). Drop goal: Michalak.
Crusaders 28 (16) Vodacom Bulls 13 (3)
Dan Carter scored 23 points as the Vodacom Bulls’ somewhat inconsistent Vodacom Super Rugby season came to an end in Christchurch on Saturday morning when they were beaten by 28-13 by the Crusaders at AMI Stadium.
The Vodacom Bulls were far from their best, while the Crusaders showed why they have won this competition seven times before with a clinical display of knock-out rugby.
Their task was made a bit easier by a lacklustre Vodacom Bulls side that seemed to lack the intent, conceded far too many silly penalties and made the one unforced error after the other, especially during a very ordinary first half that.
Their play in the set phases was also not good enough and meant the Vodacom Bulls were on the back foot for most of the match.
Carter was at hand to punish the Pretorians every time their discipline let them down – and it happened quite often. The Crusaders flyhalf slotted six penalty goals and missed a further two.
To compound matters for the visitors, their normally good tactical kicking was not good, which often enabled the Crusaders to keep the Vodacom Bulls pinned back in their own half.
The Vodacom Bulls did improve in the second half, when they managed to hang on to the ball for a bit longer, things went better, while their defence was also solid. Dewald Potgieter and Wynand Olivier went over for well-worked tries, but by then it was already too late and Carter hammered the final nail into the visitors’ coffin on the stroke of full time.
Crusaders – Try: Zac Guildford. Conversion: Dan Carter. Drop goal: Carter. Penalty goals: Carster (6).
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Dewald Potgieter, Wynand Olivier. Penalty goal: Morné Steyn.