The Sharks and Toyota Cheetahs were the big winners this weekend as the Southern Kings averted defeat in their first ever tour match in Australia against the team that topped the Vodacom Super Rugby standings.
It was a weekend of high drama in Canberra, Durban and Bloemfontein, where the only South African team that didn’t avoid defeat was the DHL Stormers, who went down to the Toyota Cheetahs in a typically tough derby.
The 26-24 win on Saturday was a very special one for the Toyota Cheetahs – it was the first time they’ve won five successive Vodacom Super Rugby matches and their first victory over the DHL Stormers in six years.
On Friday evening in Durban, The Sharks put in a spirited second-half display as they beat the Crusaders by 21-17 – their third victory in 17 matches as a franchise over the seven-time champions and their first win over the Cantabrians since 2007.
And on Friday morning the Southern Kings drew with the table-topping Brumbies (28-28), but they left Canberra with three log points (two for the draw and one for scoring four tries), while the home team only got two. It was the team from the South Eastern Cape’s first ever try-scoring bonus point.
Brumbies 28 (19) Southern Kings 28 (14)
The final result was a draw, but the Southern Kings scored a moral victory in Canberra on Friday afternoon (SA time) when they drew 28-28 with the log-leading Brumbies thanks to a converted try in injury time by Cornell du Preez.
The Kings never gave up against the more-fancied Brumbies, who looked set for a big one after they scored two tries in the first 17 minutes. However, thereafter they could only kick penalty goals, thanks to bad discipline by the visitors, while the men from the South Eastern Cape put four tries past Jake White’s team.
The visitors managed to match the Brumbies’ physicality and stop their momentum, but also showed a lot of character and never gave up until the end of the match, despite having had to defend for most of the match.
Although they made a few silly mistakes and conceded too many kickable penalties, the Kings took their chances well, with Du Preez scoring a brace of tries, while his fellow loose forward Wimpie van der Walt and loosehead prop Schalk Ferreira also crashing over.
It took the Toyota Cheetahs 21 defeats in Australasia before they drew with the Chiefs away, the Vodacom Bulls lost their first 20 tour matches before they beat the Hurricanes, the MTN Lions lost their first five Down Under before winning against the Force in Perth and the DHL Stormers their first four before they beat the Hurricanes.
Only The Sharks, who won their first tour match as a franchise, in 1998 against the Brumbies, had a shorter “Australasian losing streak” than the Kings.
Brumbies – Tries: Henry Speight, Joe Tomane. Penalty goals: Christian Lealiifano (5), Nic White.
Southern Kings – Tries: Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez (2), Schalk Ferreria. Conversions: George Whitehead (3), Demetri Catrakilis.
The Sharks 21 (9) Crusaders 17 (11)
Seven penalty goals by flyhalf Pat Lambie was the difference as The Sharks notched up only their third ever win against the Crusaders, by 21-17, at Kings Park in Durban on Friday evening.
As a franchise, The Sharks lost 14 out of 16 against the Cantabrians since 1998, but history counted for nothing this weekend as the home team stepped up a gear in the second half to cement their position at the top of the South African Conference.
Trailing 9-11 at the end of a first half where the Crusaders played virtually all of the rugby, The Sharks improved a lot in the second 40.
It was the third time this season they could not cross for a try, but still won. Lambie also scored all the points in The Sharks’ victories over the DHL Stormers and the Southern Kings earlier in the season.
And where Lambie had another flawless night with the boot, moving his season tally to 82 points, his opposite number, Tyler Bleyendaal missed 11 points through failed kicks.
Scrumhalf Andy Ellis scored the only try of the match, in the 18th minute, at a time when the Crusaders looked well and truly in control. But that all changed during a second half where The Sharks showed why they were runners up last year.
The Sharks – Penalty goals: Pat Lambie (7).
Crusaders – Try: Andy Ellis. Penalty goals: Tyler Bleyendaal (4).
Toyota Cheetahs 26 (7) DHL Stormers 15 (24)
Toyota Cheetahs flyhalf Burton Francis was his team’s big hero as they extended their winning streak to a record fifth victory when they beat the DHL Stormers at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon.
Francis contributed 16 points with the boot, including a tricky injury time penalty goal, to give the Toyota Cheetahs their first win over the Capetonians since 2007. The final score after 80 pulsating minutes was 26-24.
It was also the first time ever the franchise from Central South Africa managed to win five Vodacom Super Rugby matches on the trot.
The Toyota Cheetahs used their opportunities better as both their tries came from mistakes by the DHL Stormers. Robert Ebersohn (inside centre) burst over in the 20th minute after the visitors lost the ball hot on the attack in the home team’s 22, while replacement scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius scored early in the second half after charging down a kick.
DHL Stormers outside centre Juan de Jongh got both his team’s tries late in a first half where they controlled matters to lead 15-7 at the break. The visiting pack was on the front foot for most of the first 40 minutes as they put the Toyota Cheetahs under pressure in the lineouts and with some impressive mauling.
But the home team never gave up and thanks to Francis’ boot they remained in contention. Apart from his two conversions and three penalty goals, the Toyota Cheetahs flyhalf also kicked a crucial drop goal with 12 minutes left in the match.
It was his 84th minute penalty, however, that did the damage for the Toyota Cheetahs.
Toyota Cheetahs – Tries: Robert Ebersohn, Sarel Pretorius. Conversions: Burton Francis (2). Penalty goals: Francis (3). Drop goal: Francis.
DHL Stormers – Tries: Juan de Jongh (2). Conversion: Joe Pietersen. Penalty goals: Pietersen (4).
Other results – Round 8:
Blues 29 Highlanders 18 (Auckland)
Force 23 Rebels 30 (Perth)
Hurricanes 41 Waratahs 29 (Wellington)