Defending champions Northern Bulls are steaming towards hosting a Super 14 play-off after moving five points clear in this weekend’s round of matches.
The Bulls crushed the Golden Lions 51-11 in a South African derby at Pretoria to capitalise on the defeats of their main challengers, Canterbury Crusaders and Western Stormers.
The Cape Town-based Stormers could only come away from Brisbane with a bonus point in a 16-13 loss to the much-improved Queensland Reds, while the Crusaders slipped up 24-16 to the Western Force in Perth.
The Stormers, Crusaders and Reds are all on 34 points, with the Stormers holding down second spot on points differential heading into the final three rounds of the southern hemisphere provincial tournament.
Waratahs take out Brumbies
The New South Wales Waratahs maintained the heat on the top four teams with a dour 19-12 Australian derby win over the ACT Brumbies in Sydney.
The Brumbies, now seven points adrift of the fourth-placed Reds, are mathematically still in with a chance of reaching the play-offs, but it will be all or nothing when they take on the Reds in Canberra next weekend.
Wellington Hurricanes cling to an outside play-off chance after a bonus point 33-31 win over the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin, but it looks all over for the Auckland Blues, who went down 23-10 to the Coastal Sharks in Durban.
In the weekend’s remaining match, the Waikato Chiefs were held to a 25-25 draw by South Africa’s Central Cheetahs in Hamilton.
Fly-half Morne Steyn became the most prolific South African scorer in Super 14 when he contributed 26 points in the Bulls’ rampage over the Lions.
Steyn, who scored a try, kicked five penalties and converted three tries, entered the match level on 645 Super 14 points with former Lions fly-half Andre Pretorius.
The Bulls host the Sharks and Crusaders before completing their season schedule at the Stormers.
Reds keep up play offs push
The Queensland Reds maintained their push for the 14 play-offs with another tenacious victory, this time over the Stormers for their third straight win.
Queensland have now conquered the top three teams this season – Crusaders, Bulls and Stormers – and are looming as genuine contenders for the title after years of mediocrity.
Both sides scored a try each in the hard-fought encounter but fly-half Quade Cooper’s goalkicking proved the difference with a conversion and three penalties from seven attempts to Peter Grant’s conversion and two penalties.
The Western Force shocked the seven-time Super rugby champion Crusaders after coming back from a half-time deficit in one of the upsets of the season.
Although the Crusaders led 13-0 at half-time, the Force continued their rejuvenated form in the latter part of the season to produce a pulsating 24-3 second half and claim the win.
It was a major blow for the Crusaders, who face a tough South African tour against the Stormers and Bulls over the next fortnight.
The Waratahs scored the only try in their match with the Brumbies before a record home 40,271 crowd at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.
Wallabies winger Lachie Turner provided the only bright spark of a turgid game when he raced on to a well-directed kick from Berrick Barnes to run around and touch down under the posts in the 51st minute.
Fly-half Daniel Halangahu was in immaculate goalkicking touch, landing four penalties and a conversion from five attempts.
The Hurricanes snared the bonus point win they needed to keep their slender play-off hopes alive against the Highlanders after both sides scored five tries.