The Cell C Sharks ground out their sixth win of the Vodacom Super Rugby season to stay at the top of the standings, but for the other three South African teams in action this weekend, the ninth round wasn’t a happy one.
The KwaZulu-Natalians beat a plucky Lions side by 25-12 in front of more than 30,000 people at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday evening. It was a battle of attrition and the visitors from Durban scored the only try of the match.
Earlier on Saturday, the Toyota Cheetahs put up a brave fight, but for a second successive week they fell off the pace in the final 10 minutes as they lost by 52-31 to the Crusaders in Bloemfontein – the team from Canterbury’s first win in the Free State Stadium for seven years.
On Friday morning, the Vodacom Bulls could not put an end to a seven-year drought in Dunedin as they paid the price for making way too many errors with ball in hand and on defence as they went down by 27-20 to the Highlanders.
The DHL Stormers had a bye.
Highlanders 27 (13) Vodacom Bulls 20 (13)
A myriad of unforced errors at critical stages when they were strong on the attack cost the Vodacom Bulls dearly as they were beaten 27-20 by a Highlanders side resolute on defence in Dunedin on Friday morning (SA time).
The South Africans started the match at pace and attacked with vigour. Bjorn Basson scored a brilliant try from a blind-side move and a perfect chip-kick by scrumhalf Piet van Zyl. After 22 minutes they were in front by 13-3 and looked to be in control.
But then things went pear-shaped for the three-time champions from Pretoria as they started missing one-on-one tackles, which lead to a couple of soft tries for the Highlanders. A week ago, against the Hurricanes, the Vodacom Bulls made close to 90% of their tackles, but on Friday in Dunedin this figure dropped to below 80%.
The Vodacom Bulls also seemed to suffer from try-line fever and coughed up the ball way too often when they were hot on the attack. While the Highlanders’ defensive effort was very good, the visitors should also take some blame for this as they simply didn’t protect the ball well enough in contact.
A late try by Marcel van der Merwe, converted by Jacques-Louis Potgieter, gave the visitors a losing bonus-point, but if they tackled and handled better, the Vodacom Bulls could’ve won this one.
Highlanders – Tries: Lima Sopoaga, Gareth Evans, Malakati Fekitoa. Conversions: Sopoaga (3). Penalty goals: Sopoaga (2).
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Bjorn Basson, Marcel van der Merwe. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (2) .Penalty goals: Potgieter (2).
Toyota Cheetahs 31 (10) Crusaders 52 (19)
The Toyota Cheetahs’ inability to close out matches again saw them squander a lead in the final 20 minutes as they went down by 52-31 to the Crusaders at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.
Last weekend, the Chiefs scored four tries in the final 20 minutes to force a draw in Bloem. The Crusaders dotted down four times in the final 15 minutes to hand the Toyota Cheetahs their sixth defeat of 2014.
The Toyota Cheetahs, who fought back from 26-10 early in the second half to lead by 31-26 with 20 minutes to go, again delivered a below-par performance on defence. They conceded six tries to the Crusaders, with all of them going to backs and Nemani Nadolo bagging a hat-trick.
As they did against the Chiefs, the Toyota Cheetahs got four tries – by Cornal Hendricks, Sarel Pretorius, Oupa Mohoje and Willie le Roux – in return. Their last three five-pointers were scored during 10 magical minutes for the home team just before the hour mark.
But thereafter the Crusaders took back control of the match and added four more tries. Colin Slade scored 27 points for the visitors from Christchurch, while Elgar Watts, who replaced Johan Goosen early in the match for the Toyota Cheetahs, kicked four conversions and a penalty goal.
Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Cornal Hendricks, Sarel Pretorius, Oupa Mohoje, Willie le Roux. Conversions: Elgar Watts (4). Penalty goals: Watts.
Crusaders – Tries: Israel Dagg, Nemani Nadolo (3), Tom Taylor, Colin Slade. Conversions: Slade (5). Penalties: Slade (4).
Lions 12 (6) Cell C Sharks 25 (6)
The Cell C Sharks remained patient and kept the pressure up as they won their first away game of the season by beating the Lions by 25-12 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday evening.
It was a typical South African derby. At half-time, the teams were deadlocked at 6-6 as both sides made mistakes but also defended very well. All the points were scored through penalty goals by the two flyhalves, Marnitz Boshoff and Fred Zeilinga, who limped off with an injury in the first half.
It took two massive penalty goals by Frans Steyn to take the Cell C Sharks back into the lead in the second half before they pounced on probably their best try-scoring opportunity of the match.
Former Springbok Sevens player Sibusiso Sithole forced a brilliant turn-over before Lwazi Mvovo chipped and gathered to score the only try of the match, with less than 15 minutes left on the clock.
Up until that point, the Cell C Sharks had steadily built up the pressure on the Lions, but the home team deserves a lot of credit as they kept on trying for the full 80 minutes.
Ultimately they were denied by yet another superb defensive effort by the Durbanites, who have conceded only eight tries in their seven matches this year.
Lions – Penalty goals: Marnitz Boshoff (4).
Cell C Sharks – Try: Lwazi Mvovo. Conversion: Frans Steyn. Penalty goals: Fred Zeilinga (2), Steyn (4).
Other results – Round 9:
Reds 20 Brumbies 23 (Brisbane)
Chiefs 22 Rebels 16 (Hamilton)
Force 28 Waratahs 16 (Perth)