The pace-setting Stormers kicked off their tour of New Zealand with an emphatic victory in Dunedin over the Highlanders as they cemented their position at the top of the log.
The Capetonians showed their class as they strangled the Highlanders, beating them 21-6, the 5th time in 183 games in New Zealand that a South African team has not conceded a try.
At Loftus, the Bulls returned to winning ways with a sublime second-half performance against the Crusaders (32-30), while the Cheetahs were too strong for the Lions in Bloemfontein (26-5), with Johan Goosen becoming the first player this season to surpass 100 points in this competition.
The Sharks had a shocker, going down to the Hurricanes 42-18 in New Plymouth on Friday.
Hurricanes 42 (25) The Sharks 18 (3)
The Sharks conceded the most tries in one match in almost seven years. The 6 tries scored by the ‘Canes was the most The Sharks have let through since the Crusaders crushed them 77-34 in Christchurch in 2005, scoring 11 tries in the process.
On a day where nothing worked out for The Sharks, with mistakes on attack and defence holding them back, the Hurricanes were at their best, correcting the wrongs from last weekend against the Cheetahs.
The home side had the game in the bag by half time, leading 25-3. The Sharks scored two tries in the second half – by outside centre JP Pietersen and hooker Craig Burden, in only his third start for the KwaZulu-Natalians at this level – to make their score look a bit more respectable, but this is a performance they would probably like to put behind them as soon as possible.
Beauden Barrett, missed 6 out of his 11 kicks at goal, meaning he finished the match on a season total of 98 points, opening the door for Johan Goosen to become the first player to 100 points this year.
Sharks prop Jannie du Plessis was cited and received an “off-field” yellow card for issuing Karl Lowe with an open handed slap to the face late in the first half, which in turn lead to a massive brawl and saw the referee issue white cards to both players.
Hurricanes – Tries: Andre Taylor, Jack Lam, Julian Savea, Conrad Smith, Tim Bateman, Jeremy Thrush. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (3). Penalty goals: Barrett (2).
The Sharks – Tries: JP Pietersen, Craig Burden. Conversion: Frederic Michalak. Penalty goals: Michalak (2).
Highlanders 6 (6) Stormers 21 (15)
The Stormers kept the Highlanders try-less as they kicked off their tour with an emphatic win, built again on rock-solid defence. They’ve only conceded 7 tries thus far in 2012 (the Chiefs, with 6 tries against them, being to only team with a better defensive record).
The Highlanders struggled with the pressure applied by the Stormers flat, fast and smothering defence. Both the visitors’ tries, by winger Gio Aplon and fullback Joe Pietersen, were scored from turn-overs.
Pietersen was superb for the visitors and his try, after some deft footwork and a great chip kick which he gathered, set the Capetonians up for a handy first-half lead.
Highlanders – Penalty goals: Chris Noakes (2).
Stormers – Tries: Gio Aplon, Joe Pietersen. Conversion: Peter Grant. Penalty goals: Joe Pietersen, Peter Grant (2).
Cheetahs 26 (23) Lions 5 (0)
The Cheetahs reigned supreme, and in the process, Johan Goosen became the first player this season to reach 100 points. Goosen, who is in line for his second season with the SA Under-20s, has scored 1 try, 14 conversions, 25 penalty goals and 1 dropped goal for a total of 111 – 13 points ahead of Beauden Barrett of the Hurricanes, who is in second position.
The result was all but secured by the end of the first half as the home side went into the break ahead 23-0. Two tries by Robert Ebersohn, coupled with some solid goal kicking by Goosen and unforced errors by the Lions, saw the Free Staters control much of the match.
The Cheetahs managed to keep the Lions scoreless for 65 minutes before Cobus Grobbelaar got the visitors’ only points of the match.
While the Cheetahs played well in the first half, they struggled to keep up that intensity after the break, only adding three points to their total, with the Lions “winning” a drab second half 5-3.
Elton Jantjies received an “off field” yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Goosen late in the first half.
Cheetahs – Tries: Robert Ebersohn (2). Conversions: Johan Goosen (2). Penalty goals: Goosen (3), Sias Ebersohn.
Lions – Try: Cobus Grobbelaar.
Bulls 32 (9) Crusaders 30 (13)
Morné Steyn kicked 22 points as the Bulls returned to winning ways at Loftus Versfeld. They had to dig deep toward the end, though, when the Saders scored two late tries which saw them go from 32-16 to 32-30, forcing the home team to desperately defend a slender lead going into injury time after they looked to be on their way to a comfortable win.
Although the home team conceded three tries and could only score two, they did well to win this game despite not being at their best for most of the encounter. The Crusaders managed to poach possession fairly regularly, robbing the Bulls of necessary momentum in the first half.
Crusaders captain Kieran Read crossed for the first try in the 8th minute and although the Bulls looked a bit shell shocked at that stage, they managed to keep the visitors try-less for an hour after that.
Steyn’s 22 points was the difference in the end as he converted both tries – by Dean Greyling and Wynand Olivier – and added 6 penalty goals, punishing the Crusaders’ ill-discipline.
Olivier’s try came from a deft little chip by Steyn, while Greyling will receive a written warning from the front row club for fooling Israel Dagg with a superb dummy as he sprinted toward the tryline following good work by flanker CJ Stander.
Bulls – Tries: Dean Greyling, Wynand Olivier. Conversions: Morné Steyn (2). Penalty goals: Steyn (6).
Crusaders – Tries: Kieran Read, Zac Guildford, Tom Marshall. Conversions: Dan Carter (3). Drop Goal: Dan Carter. Penalty goals: Dan Carter, Tom Taylor.
Rebels 34 Blues 23 (Melbourne)
Reds 20 Brumbies 13 (Brisbane)
Force 12 Chiefs 20 (Perth)
My five from seven (I doubted the Stormers and did not think the Blues could sink that low) took me up 75 places in the Front Row Grunt superbru pool, and into the top half for the first time, but it’s Stevovo who remains top of the pile for the third week in a row …
1 Stormers SA Leader 28
2 Chiefs NZ Leader 26
3 Brumbies Aus Leader 19
4 Bulls Wildcard 24
5 Highlanders Wildcard 22
6 Hurricanes Wildcard 21
7 Crusaders 19
8 Reds 17
10 Waratahs 17
11 Cheetahs 16
12 Rebels 14
13 Force 12
14 Blues 10
15 Lions 10
And if the regular season ended now?
Bulls v Highlanders at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Brumbies v Hurricanes at Canberra Stadium
Stormers v lowest ranked qualifier at Newlands, Cape Town
Chiefs v highest ranked qualifier at Waikato Stadium, Hamilton