The Vodacom Bulls and Toyota Cheetahs scored historic wins in New Zealand, while a nail-biting win by the DHL Stormers resulted in a clean sweep of South African teams over their New Zealand counterparts in an exciting fourth round of Vodacom Super Rugby.
In Auckland, on a sunny Sunday afternoon the visiting Vodacom Bulls shocked the previously undefeated Blues team with a great mix of attacking rugby, accurate tactical kicking and some very physical line-out drives to claim their first ever win at Eden Park (28-21).
The Bulls, who remain unbeaten after three matches came inches from scoring a bonus point try, while a late try by Rene Ranger gave the hosts a losing bonus point.
Earlier during the weekend, on Saturday afternoon, the DHL Stormers got their first win of the season when they beat the defending Vodacom Super Rugby champions, the Chiefs, by 36-34 in Cape Town, despite “losing” the try-count by three to four.
It was the first time in almost four years that the DHL Stormers conceded four tries at home. The last time this happened, was on 3 May 2009, incidentally also against the Chiefs, but on that occasion the Capetonians lost 14-28.
The Cheetahs started the sweep early Saturday morning South African time, when the team from Central South Africa beat the Highlanders 36-17 after leading 30-7 at the break at Rugby Park.
The 17-point win margin was the Toyota Cheetahs’ biggest ever over a New Zealand team at any venue. They have only won seven from 35 clashes against Kiwi sides (26 defeats and two draws) and the previous biggest victory was by 28-12 on 6 March 2010 against the Hurricanes in Bloemfontein.
The last time South African teams recorded three wins on a single weekend against New Zealand sides, was on 24/25 April 2009, but all three wins were at home – the Toyota Cheetahs beat the Crusaders in Bloemfontein (20-13), the Vodacom Bulls beat the Chiefs in Pretoria (33-27) and the DHL Stormers beat the Highlanders in Cape Town (18-11).
It also happened on 16/17 February 2007, when the Sharks beat the Highlanders in Durban (23-16), the MTN Lions beat the Crusaders in Johannesburg (9-3) and the DHL Stormers beat the Chiefs in Cape Town (21-16).
The first and only other time the South African teams won home and abroad was on 13/14 April 2001. On that weekend, the MTN Lions beat the Blues in Whangarei (26-23), the Sharks beat the Chiefs in Taupo (24-8) and the DHL Stormers were too strong for the Crusaders in Cape Town (49-28).
In the only South African derby of the weekend, The Sharks had to work very hard to beat the Southern Kings by 21-12 on Saturday evening in Port Elizabeth. No tries were scored in this encounter, where both sides’ discipline let them down at stages. Pat Lambie scored all the visitors’ points with the boot.
Down Under, the Hurricanes, Reds and Brumbies recorded good victories over the weekend.
In Wellington, the Crusaders lost their second successive match as the Hurricanes beat them by 29-28 at Westpac Stadium on Friday, despite the visitors outscoring the home team by four tries to two.
Also on Friday, the Reds were too strong for the Rebels in Melbourne, winning by 23-13, while the impressive Brumbies crushed the Waratahs by 35-6 in Canberra on Saturday.
Highlanders 19 (6) Toyota Cheetahs 36 (30)
For 15 minutes late in the first half of their match against the Highlanders, the Toyota Cheetahs played the kind of rugby that has seen teams qualify for the playoffs in Vodacom Super Rugby.
The Toyota Cheetahs, with their pack magnificent, were sublime and scored three tries as they caused one of the biggest upsets of the season thus far by beating the men from Otago by 36-19 at Rugby Park in Invercargill.
Sarel Pretorius scored twice and Robert Ebersohn also crossed the tryline for the visitors as their Springbok flyhalf, Johan Goosen, kicked eight from eight for a personal haul of 21 points.
Although they conceded three tries, all of them scored by Kade Poki, the Toyota Cheetahs’ defensive effort was much better than in the last two weeks. The also played with pace, passion and patience, used their opportunities and let the Highlanders pay for any mistakes.
Pretorius’ first try, in the 20th minute, followed from a great run by the impressive Lappies Labuschagne down the left hand touchline, while his second came after an intercept in their half, with five minutes left in the first half.
Ebersohn scored in the 30th minute from a charged down kick which was referred to the Television Match Official, but he had no qualms with the Toyota Cheetah midfielder’s efforts and the try was awarded.
Those three tries had a negative effect on the home team. They tried in vain, but could not replicate the Highlanders’ fight back from 2012, when they triumphed 36-33 after the Toyota Cheetahs lead 30-9 at the break in Bloemfontein.
It was also the first time ever the Toyota Cheetahs, playing as a franchise, beat the Highlanders. It took them eight matches to break their Otago duck. It was also the Highlanders’ first defeat at Rugby Park since 2002 – almost 11 years.
Note: In 1997, Free State upset the Highlanders in Invercargill by 49-18, but that was in the days before franchises in South Africa.
Highlanders – Tries: Kade Poki (3). Conversions: Lima Sopoaga, Colin Slade.
Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Sarel Pretorius (2), Robert Ebersohn. Conversions: Johan Goosen (3). Penalty goals: Goosen (5).
DHL Stormers 36 (26) Chiefs 34 (17)
The DHL Stormers won their first match of the 2013 Vodacom Super Rugby season by 36-34, but it was a close call in an entertaining encounter at DHL Newlands against the defending champion Chiefs.
The home team lead 26-17 at the break and in the process, scored more points in the first 40 minutes of this match than they did in the 160 combined minutes of their first two games, against the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria and The Sharks in Durban.
The foundation for this victory was laid upfront, which is one area where the DHL Stormers struggled in Pretoria and Durban. They disrupted the Chiefs’ lineout superbly, scrummed well and were very effective with their driving play.
The DHL Stormers started very well, with Gio Aplon going over from a superb inside pass by Elton Jantjies, in the seventh minute. The Chiefs hit back with two tries of their own, through Charlie Ngatai and Tim Nanai-Williams, and both from grubbers inside the home team’s 22.
But Aplon ended the first half as he started it with his second try two minutes before the break. With a bunch of penalty goals by both sides, the home team went into the break 26-17 ahead.
Nic Groom scored the DHL Stormers’ third try in the 50th minute and Joe Pietersen’s conversion put them ahead by 33-20. The Chiefs, who were shown two yellow cards during the match, fought hard to get back into the match and although they scored two more tries, by Ngatai and Andrew Horrell, their discipline was what cost them ultimately.
Pietersen kicked five penalty goals and converted all three of the DHL Stormers’ tries for a personal haul of 21 points. He did not miss one kick at goal during the match.
The kicking boot of Pietersen proved to be the difference in the end – his opposite number, Gareth Anscombe, missed one penalty kick – and the DHL Stormers finally have a tick in the column for victories.
DHL Stormers – Tries: Gio Aplon (2), Nic Groom. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (3). Penalty goals: Pietersen (5).
Chiefs – Tries: Charlie Ngatai (2), Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (4). Penalty goals: Anscombe (2).
Southern Kings 12 (3) The Sharks 21 (12)
The Sharks had to work very hard to beat the Southern Kings by 21-12 in front of a full house of 42,000 fans at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday evening, as Springbok flyhalf Pat Lambie recorded all of this team’s points for the second successive week.
Lambie was successful with six penalty goals and one dropped goal, while his counterpart from the Kings, Demetri Catrakilis, slotted all four of his attempts at goal.
The six kickable penalties conceded by the Kings probably indicated their biggest problem on the night – discipline. It’s true that both sides were penalised heavily during the match, but it happened more within range for The Sharks and they duly made the score board tick over each time Lambie got the opportunity to aim at goal.
The home team especially struggled at scrum time and conceded a heap of penalties in this facet. Unlike their problematic discipline, the Kings’ defence was superb and held firm for 80 minutes under numerous onslaughts from the runners up from 2012.
But the KwaZulu-Natalians were probably a bit too lateral on attack and although they created a few try-scoring opportunities, they were kept out by brilliant defence by the Kings.
Southern Kings – Penalty goals: Demetri Catrakilis (4).
The Sharks – Penalty goals: Pat Lambie (6). Drop goal: Lambie.
Blues 21 (6), Vodacom Bulls 28 (15)
A very strong first half laid the foundation to this first ever Vodacom Bulls win at Eden Park on Sunday. The visitors scored two very well-worked tries in this session and had the Blues at sixes and sevens with their accurate tactical kicking and driving mauls. The backline also attacked with zest when the opportunity arose.
The Blues did well in coming back into the match in the second half, but that effort took too much out of them and they faded away in the closing spell.
The Blues took the early lead with a penalty by flyhalf Baden Kerr, but Mornè Steyn soon levelled matters with a penalty of his own.
Kerr then hooked a penalty attempt before slotting another soon after to give his side the lead for the second time, but the next quarter belonged to the Bulls.
First Lionel Mapoe rounded off a great movement by his inside backs and when the Blues dropped another tactical bomb soon after, Akona Ndungane stepped inside his man to round off a very convincing half for the Bulls, playing in their alternate pink strip.
The Blues came out firing in the second half and raced back into the lead following a penalty by Kerr and a converted try by Charles Piutua.
The Bulls responded magnificently and after some impressive play by their pack, Arno Botha exploited some space to score his first of the year. Steyn, who fluffed his lines twice in the first half, kicked the conversion and another penalty to ease the Bulls back into a defendable lead.
A late run by Ranger had the Blues within four with as many minutes to play, but Steyn kicked another penalty on the buzzer to have his team’s hands in the air and that of the Blues on their knees.
Blues – Tries: Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger. Conversion: Baden Kerr. Penalties: Kerr (3)
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Lionel Mapoe, Akona Ndungane, Arno Botha. Conversions: Mornè Steyn (2). Penalties: Steyn (3).
Other results – Round 4:
Hurricanes 29 Crusaders 28 (Wellington)
Reds 23 Rebels 13 (Brisbane)
Brumbies 35 Waratahs 6 (Canberra)