Two rounds of relative disappointment were reversed this weekend as three of the four South African teams in action won their Vodacom Super Rugby matches against Australasian opposition.
In the process the Vodacom Bulls moved up to second spot on the overall log, although they made very hard work of recording a try-scoring bonus point in their 35-18 win over the struggling Highlanders in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Toyota Cheetahs and The Sharks also recorded wins this weekend, both over Australian teams.
On Friday afternoon The Sharks managed to finish a disappointing tour of New Zealand and Australia on a high when they beat the Force by 23-13 in Perth.
The Toyota Cheetahs were too strong for the Reds in Bloemfontein, with Piet van Zyl scoring a brace of tries in their 27-13 victory.
The DHL Stormers’ tour Down Under ended in heartbreak after they lost by 30-21 to the Rebels in Melbourne.
All five South African teams have now concluded their Australasian tours. The Toyota Cheetahs did the best in 2013, winning three of their four matches for a haul of 12 log points.
The Southern Kings won one, drew one and lost two before returning to Port Elizabeth with seven log points from their tour.
The DHL Stormers and Vodacom Bulls both collected six points each from one tour victory and two losing bonus points. The Sharks also got six, but one of their bonus points was for four tries, scored against the Chiefs in their first match on tour.
Rebels 30 (13) DHL Stormers 21 (14)
The DHL Stormers’ tour of Australasia ended in despair in Melbourne’s AAMI Park on Friday morning (SA time) as they became the first South African Vodacom Super Rugby team to lose to the Rebels.
The Rebels won by 30-21, due mainly to a late penalty try awarded against the DHL Stormers when Martin Bezuidenhout (hooker) held back a player from the home team which, according to the TMO, prevented a probably try.
Excluding the penalty try, the Capetonians outscored their hosts by three tries to two, but their discipline let them down big time, with Jason Woodward slotting a number of penalty goals which kept his team in the mix.
Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham got the first try of the match, in the 12th minute, but the DHL Stormers’ Louis Schreuder (scrumhalf) and Bryan Habana (wing) dotted down in the 16th and 27th minutes respectively, which ensured they went into the break leading by 14-13.
Two locks got in on the try-scoring action after the break – first Hugh Pyle put the home team back in front, but then big Andries Bekker (lock) went over into the corner and fullback Joe Pietersen’s conversion moved the DHL Stormers back into the lead, by 21-20.
The final 20 minutes was pretty intense, until the penalty try and Woodward’s third penalty goal in the dying moments of the match meant the Rebels got their first win in 12 matches over opposition from the Republic.
Rebels – Tries: Scott Higginbotham, Hugh Pyle, Penalty try. Conversions: Jason Woodward (3). Penalty goals: Woodward (3).
DHL Stormers – Tries: Louis Schreuder, Bryan Habana, Andries Bekker. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (3).
Force 13 (10) The Sharks 23 (7)
A strong second half performance ensured The Sharks put a five-match Vodacom Super Rugby losing-streak behind them when they beat the Force by 23-13 in Perth on Friday afternoon (SA time).
A classic it wasn’t, and hard core Sharks fans would admit their team were still not close to their best, but a win is a win and this was a much-needed victory for the KwaZulu-Natalians.
Pat Lambie (flyhalf) kicked 13 points with his trusty right boot, missing two out of seven attempts in the end. Sharks captain Keegan Daniel (No 8) and Riaan Viljoen (fullback) scored good tries for the visitors, who only conceded one, shortly before the break.
Viljoen’s try, with less than 20 minutes left on the clock, was crucial for The Sharks. He stepped this way past a few defenders and beat one tackle before diving over for the five-pointer which broke a 13-13 deadlock at a time when both sides were pressing hard for the advantage.
Lambie’s third penalty goal, in the 73rd minute, put The Sharks ahead by 10 points, and that is how it stayed until the end.
Before Friday’s match, The Sharks had lost two games in South Africa followed by three on tour – but they ended this bad run of results with their sixth successive win over the Force.
Force – Try: Kyle Godwin. Conversion: Jayden Hayward. Penalty goals: Hayward (2).
The Sharks – Tries: Keegan Daniel, Riaan Viljoen. Conversions: Pat Lambie (2). Penalty goals: Lambie (3).
Vodacom Bulls 35 (23) Highlanders 18 (6)
Mistakes and more mistakes almost cost the Vodacom Bulls dearly, but the franchise from Pretoria managed to do what they set out to do when they beat the Highlanders by 35-18 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday afternoon.
After scoring their first try in second minute when JJ Engelbrecht (centre) went over and their third, by Pierre Spies (No 8) in his 100th Vodacom Super Rugby match, shortly after half-time, the Vodacom Bulls seemed to be cruising.
However, they struggled to get their fourth try for a crucial bonus point which saw them move up to second on the log. In fact, it only happened in the 78th minute when replacement scrumhalf Jano Vermaak sniped around the blind side for this very crucial try.
The Vodacom Bulls’ defence was good and they kept the Highlanders out until late in the game, while their pack also smothered the visitors from Otago with some typical power-rugby, but their handling largely let them down in this scrappy match.
There were also a couple of lucky bounces for the Pretorians, but in the end they won’t mind as they got the job done in their fifth successive victory since returning to South Africa from their Australasian tour.
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: JJ Engelbrecht, Akona Ndungane, Pierre Spies, Jano Vermaak. Conversions: Morné Steyn (3). Penalty goals: Steyn.
Highlanders – Tries: Fumiaki Tanaka, Tamati Ellison. Conversion: Hayden Parker. Penalty goals: Colin Slade (2).
Toyota Cheetahs 27 (18) Reds 13 (6)
Two sublime first-half tries by nippy scrumhalf Piet van Zyl ensured the Toyota Cheetahs stretched their home win streak against teams from Australia to seven when they beat the Reds by 27-13 at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday evening.
After last weekend’s disappointing home defeat to the Hurricanes, the team from Central South Africa bounced back in fine fashion against one of the leading teams in the competition and Vodacom Super Rugby champions in 2011.
The two Van Zyl tries, in the third and 24th minutes, ensured the Toyota Cheetahs played most of the match on the front foot as they kept the Reds at bay.
Flyhalf Elgar Watts, who was successful with six out of seven kicks at goal for a personal haul of 17 points, regularly added to the Toyota Cheetahs’ points tally by penalising the Reds’ ill-discipline within striking range.
Their defence was also very good yet again – the Reds, one of the top six teams in the competition, could only score one try, and that came in the 78th minute of the match when Ben Lucas went over in the corner.
Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Piet van Zyl (2). Conversion: Elgar Watts. Penalty goals: Watts (5).
Reds – Tries: Ben Lucas. Conversion: Quade Cooper. Penalty goals: Cooper (2).
Other results – Round 14:
Hurricanes 12 Chiefs 17 (Wellington)
Crusaders 23 Blues 3 (Christchurch)
Waratahs 28 Brumbies 22 (Sydney)