Brumbies bounce back, Waratahs waver
The Brumbies put their wobbly campaign back on track with a 22-16 home defeat of the Bulls, while the Waratahs missed their chance to wrap up a finals berth by going down 27-22 to the Lions in Johannesburg. Compounding the ’Tahs’ loss, winger Rob Horne has been suspended for three weeks thanks to a dangerous tackle.
The Australian heavyweights – the only hopes from the conference after the Rebels crashed to a 25-21 to the Sharks on Saturday – are locked on 42 points with two rounds to go. The Brumbies face the Force (away) and Crusaders (home), while the Waratahs have the Cheetahs (away) and Reds (home) to come as a desperate race for top spot heats up.
Crusaders maintain a glimmer of hope
Written off following their Round 15 loss to the Waratahs, the Crusaders kept their finals hopes on life support with a 35-18 bonus-point thrashing of the ladder-leading Hurricanes. But they need other results to go their way. Currently six points adrift of sixth spot, losses in the remaining two rounds by the Stormers, Waratahs, Chiefs or Brumbies – while also winning their fixtures against the Blues and Brumbies, preferably with the four-try bonus – could see the Crusaders sneak in.
Highlanders eye off top spot
It was a real war of attrition in the deep south on Saturday night, but the Highlanders ultimately scored a convincing 36-9 victory over the injury-hit Chiefs to confirm their place in the 2015 finals. Leading 11-3 at halftime in Invercargill, the Highlanders grafted away in typical fashion and eventually clinched a four-try bonus point with a late flurry.
If the Dunedin-based outfit can chalk up bonus-point wins in their remaining games against the Hurricanes and Blues, and the Hurricanes in turn go down to the Chiefs in the final round without securing a bonus point, the Highlanders will snatch top spot. As it stands, they are in the box-seat to finish fourth and play at home in the first week of the playoffs.
With an unheralded, but relentless, forward pack laying the platform for a brilliant backline that is emerging as the equal of the Hurricanes’ crack line-up, the Highlanders have arrived as a genuine title threat.
Cooper sparks Reds
The Reds effectively consigned the Force to the dreaded wooden spoon courtesy of a commanding 32-10 victory in Perth on Saturday night. Quade Cooper’s return in the No.10 was a stunningly successful one, scoring two tries and kicking superbly for a 22-point haul. Winger Lachie Turner, who missed the previous week’s loss to the Sharks due to concussion, scored the Reds’ other two tries. The Reds climbed up to 13th spot on 22 points, while the Force are at the foot of the ladder on 15 points, five adrift of the Blues.
South African conference going down to the wire
The Stormers’ 42-12 drubbing of the Cheetahs has put them odds-on to finish top of the conference, although the Lions’ upset of the Waratahs means there is just a three-point gap. The Bulls are a further four points back. The Stormers and Lions face off this weekend in a decisive, mouth-watering clash at Newlands; the Lions can jump into the lead with an away win, but have the bye in the last round while the Stormers take on the Sharks. The Bulls could potentially leapfrog both sides, however, if they can rack up bonus-point wins over the Rebels and Cheetahs in their final two fixtures.
SUPER XV ROUND 16 RESULTS
Crusaders 35 d. Hurricanes 18 @ Trafalgar Park, Nelson
Brumbies 22 d. Bulls 16 @ GIO Stadium
Sharks 25 d. Rebels 21 @ Kings Park
Highlanders 36 d. Chiefs 9 @ Rugby Park, Invercargill
Reds 32 d. Force 10 @ nib Stadium
Stormers 42 d. Cheetahs 12 @ Newlands
Lions 27 d. Waratahs 22 @ Ellis Park