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The Western Stormers square off against the Golden Lions in a blockbuster South African derby while Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett sets a match record in Super Rugby this weekend.
The Canterbury Crusaders and Stormers are the only unbeaten sides remaining going into round eight of the competition, which next year will revert to a 15-team format from its current 18.
The fallout from governing body SANZAAR’s announcement to axe three teams — two from South Africa and one from Australia — has dominated the past week.
Threatened franchise Western Force have launched legal action against Australian rugby chiefs.
Seven-times champion Crusaders ease back into the fray following a bye by hosting the Sunwolves who won their first match of the season last week.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read is back for his first outing of the season having recovered from wrist surgery.
And the match will be a significant milestone for fellow All Black Crockett as he makes a record 176th appearance in Super Rugby.
The 34-year-old will overtake former All Black Keven Mealamu’s record of 175.
SANZAAR chief Andy Marinos described Crockett’s record as “a tremendous achievement for a player who is at the coal face of one of the hardest and most competitive rugby competitions in the world”.
The Crusaders feel comfortable enough to make a raft of changes to the side that beat the Waratahs a fortnight ago. Just five players of their 23 remain in the same position
In the showdown between the top two South African sides, the Stormers are brimming with confidence after inflicting the first loss of the season on the Waikato Chiefs last week while the Lions are coming off a bye.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes the week off came at the right time as it allowed several key players including Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Ruan Ackermann, and Elton Jantjies to get over niggling injuries.
The Stormers “are the team to beat in South Africa and it’s going to take something special to get the better of them at Newlands,” Ackermann said.
“They’re playing an exciting brand of rugby and their skill levels are extremely high so it’s going to be a huge challenge going there.”
The Stormers, though, have injury woes after the punishing outing against the Chiefs with flanker Cobus Wiese and locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth unable to train early in the week.
They are also in a tough sequence of matches with home games against the Chiefs and Lions to be followed by a trip to New Zealand to face the Crusaders, Otago Highlanders and Wellington Hurricanes.
The Chiefs, looking to get their season back on track, are in Bloemfontein to face a Central Cheetahs side desperate to prove they deserve to survive the Super Rugby culling process.
“These are challenging and uncertain times,” the Cheetahs said in a statement this week.
“We strongly believe that through an honest and fair process we stand a strong chance of retaining our Super Rugby status.”
The defending champion Wellington Hurricanes are in Auckland to face a Blues side which has Sonny Bill Williams starting in a new unique jersey which does not feature the logo of team sponsor Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) to conform with his Muslim beliefs.
But Williams has agreed to wear, instead, the logo of child health service Plunket whose principal sponsor is the BNZ.
In the remaining matches, top Australian side ACT Brumbies play the struggling Melbourne Rebels, who along with Western Force are under threat of being kicked out of the 2018 competition.
Elsewhere, the Queensland Reds are at home to the Southern Kings and the Northern Bulls return to South Africa after an unsuccessful road trip to host the Jaguares.
Skipper Michael Hooper scored a late try to help the NSW Waratahs triumph 32-30 over the 14-man Western Stormers Saturday in a Super Rugby thriller in Cape Town.
Flanker and official man of the match Hooper dived over under the posts after the Australians won a scrum against the head and fly-half Bernard Foley won the game with an easy conversion.
Stormers were reduced to 14 men after 57 minutes of the round 10 clash when winger Lionel Zas was red-carded by New Zealand referee MIke Fraser after an aerial collision with Foley.
The Wallaby playmaker landed on his head and shoulder, but continued playing after treatment.
Stormers supporters in the 25,000 Newlands stadium crowd booed the decision, but TV analyst and former Springboks coach Nick Mallett said the referee made the correct decision.
“The law is very clear — the higher player has all the rights and that was Foley,” he told SuperSport viewers.
“If both players are an equal distance off the ground then it is a fair contest. That was not the case in the incident between Foley and Zas.”
Fellow analyst and former Springboks fly-half Naas Botha agreed.
“If you are half a second late in contesting the ball, you must wait until your opponent reaches the ground, then try and turn him round,” said the drop-goal legend.
It was the second Super Rugby red card in successive weekends after an aerial collision.
New Zealander Jason Emery of the Otago Highlanders was sent off in Dunedin following an incident with South African Willie le Roux of the Coastal Sharks.
Hooper was thrilled after the Waratahs achieved a fourth win in eight matches to move within two points of Australia conference frontrunners the Melbourne Rebels.
“It is fantastic to win at Newlands,” he said. “We capitalised on limited possession to triumph and this success is a step in the right direction.”
Stormers skipper and centre Juan de Jongh said: “We played some of our best rugby this season during the first half, but it was tough when a man short.”
The bonus point the Cape Town team secured for losing by seven or fewer points gave them a one-point lead over fellow South Africans Northern Bulls in the Africa 1 standings.
Waratahs centre Kurtley Beale opened the scoring with a try and the Stormers responded with two, from flanker Schalk Burger and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit, with fly-half Jean-Luc du Plessis converting both.
A brilliant try by full-back Israel Folau, which Foley converted, left the Australians trailing 14-12 at half-time.
Du Plessis and Foley kicked two penalties each before Zas saw red.
Another Du Plessis penalty stretched the lead to five points, then a blindside break gave Waratahs winger Rob Horne a try that Foley converted for a two-point lead.
A second Du Toit try, converted by Du Plessis, put the hosts 30-25 ahead before Hooper struck the decisive blow for the Sydney side.
South Africa’s Western Stormers and two-time New Zealand winners Waikato Chiefs pushed their Super Rugby title claims this weekend as holders Otago Highlanders became the Queensland Reds first victims of the season.
The Stormers extended their record to 5-1 this year with a 46-19 triumph over Japan’s win-less Sunwolves in Cape Town, while the Chiefs squeezed home 29-23 over the Auckland Blues in their New Zealand derby in Hamilton.
Australia’s Reds clung on for their first victory of the season and ended Otago’s five-match winning sequence with a 28-27 win in Brisbane.
Seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders produced a great escape to knock over the hapless Western Force 20-19 in Perth, while winger Julian Savea scored a hat-trick of tries in the Hurricanes 40-22 victory over Argentina’s Jaguares in Wellington.
The Golden Lions replaced fellow South African side Coastal Sharks as Africa 2 conference leaders with a 24-9 win in Durban and the Northern Bulls tossed aside the inept Southern Kings 38-6 in Port Elizabeth.
Australian trio ACT Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels and NSW Waratahs along with South Africa’s Central Cheetahs all had this weekend off.
The Sunwolves, now without a win in six games in their debut Super Rugby campaign, were reduced to 14 men by the red-carding of lock Timothy Bond.
Fly-half Jean-Luc du Plessis displayed exceptional footwork to score the Stormers seventh and final try to seal a bonus point.
The Chiefs had to dig deep to avoid an upset loss to the Blues in a frantic New Zealand derby.
Waikato scored five tries to two but the game was in the balance until the dying minutes, when All Black lock Brodie Retallick’s try capped a superb return from injury.
The result takes the Chiefs winning streak to five matches, cementing their place at the top of the New Zealand conference and confirming their status as the form team of this year’s competition.
In Brisbane, the Reds outplayed the Highlanders in the first half to lead 22-6 and extended the advantage to 28-6, but it was all hands to the pump for much of the second half as the Kiwi champions roared back to just miss out.
It was the Reds’ sixth straight win at home over the Highlanders.
The Crusaders were the dominant side for most of their match with the Force, but found themselves staring down the barrel of a shock defeat when they trailed 19-13 with just two minutes of play remaining against a side with only one win from its previous six outings.
But just when all seemed almost lost Jordan Taufua barged over close to the posts for Richie Mo’unga to convert and snatch the lead.
In Wellington, Savea bounced back from public humiliation over his lack of fitness with a swag of tries for the Hurricanes.
In the first outing for the All Blacks’ star after being put on an intensive fitness regime two weeks ago he showed signs of his blockbusting best, breaking the game open with a touchdown double just on halftime.
The Hurricanes outscored the Jaguares six tries to three, with the bonus-point try scored by replacement prop Ben May on fulltime.
The Lions survived intense early pressure to lead 18-6 at half-time in a match against the Sharks that produced virtually no momentum due to countless reset scrums, penalties and unforced errors.
The Bulls kept the Kings scoreless when reduced to 13 men and ultimately cantered home after having lock RG Snyman and tighthead prop Marcel van der Merwe sin-binned for professional fouls during the first half.
Fly-half Robert du Preez was the 23-point star as Western Stormers battered Northern Bulls 33-9 Saturday to complete dream Super Rugby debuts for him and his twin brothers.
Try-scorer Jean-Luc du Preez and fellow loose forward Daniel du Preez excelled as Coastal Sharks trounced Southern Kings 43-8 a few hours earlier in Port Elizabeth.
The three brothers — sons of former Springbok scrum-half Robert du Preez — were making Super Rugby debuts as the expanded 18-team championship kicked off this weekend.
Robert du Preez, 22, who is two years older than Jean-Luc and Daniel, was voted man of the match after scoring a try and kicking three conversions and four penalties.
He did not miss a shot at goal at Newlands stadium in Cape Town, although one penalty soared so high it was referred to the TV match official before being confirmed.
Lock Eben Etzebeth and replacement hooker Scarra Ntubeni scored a try each for Stormers, who led 9-6 at half-time after an arm-wrestle opening half.
Bulls fly-half Francois Brummer, playing in place of long-term injury victim Handre Pollard, slotted three penalties from his three shots at goal before a 40,000 crowd.
“It was a tough first half and we did not play in the desired areas,” admitted Du Preez. “We got some momentum going in the second half.
“The first half plan was to play for territory, and to keep the ball in hand once we crossed the halfway line during the second half.
“I am proud of what my brothers achieved with the Sharks today and look forward to facing them soon.”
Stormers co-captain and tighthead prop Frans Malherbe added: “We had the edge at the scrums and that helped get us out of trouble in our half a few times.”
Bulls skipper and hooker Adriaan Strauss had no excuses: “The Stormers were worthy winners, but we contributed to our defeat by losing a few vital second-half line-outs.
“We played well at stages, but often in the wrong areas of the field, and the Stormers pinned us down in our half too often during the second half.”
Du Preez edged the first-half penalty battle against Brummer by three to two, earning the Cape Town outfit a three-point advantage by the break.
The fly-halves slotted a further penalty each before the first try arrived on 51 minutes with a Du Preez dummy and roll-over enabling him to dot down.
Any hopes three-time Super Rugby champions Bulls had of a comeback were shattered just past the hour mark when Etzebeth powered across the try-line for another converted try.
Ntubeni struck two minutes from time after an unstoppable driving maul off a line-out left the Bulls defence bewildered.
Fresh off Japan’s sensational Rugby World Cup performance, coach Eddie Jones Thursday quashed rumours linking him to England’s top job as he officially took up the reins at the Western Stormers.
The architect behind Japan’s stunning 34-32 victory over South Africa told a news conference he was honoured to coach the Cape Town-based team.
“Western Province is one of the oldest and most prestigious unions in the world, so to have the honour to coach the Stormers is fantastic.
“It’s a very young squad but full of potential. We hope to play some good rugby in the next couple of years.”
The Tasmanian-born coach’s name has been bandied about in recent weeks as a possible replacement for England boss Stuart Lancaster, after the World Cup hosts saw themselves booted out of the tournament in the group stages.
But Jones said there had been “no contact” from the English.
“I’m committed to the Stormers, mate,” he told reporters. “I woke up this morning and looked at [Table] Mountain, so I’m here.”
Jones said he hoped to develop “a really distinctive brand of Stormers rugby”, building on its legacy as an attacking team.
“We want to have the traditional South African base, which is set-piece defence — tough, uncompromising rugby,” he said. “But then we want to add that Western Province flavour.”
“We don’t want the Stormers playing like the Brumbies. We don’t want them playing like Japan. We want the Stormers playing like the Stormers.”
The Stormers won the South African conference this year only to make a meek quarter-finals exit at home against Australians ACT Brumbies.
Jones was a highly-praised advisor to Springboks coach Jake White when they won the 2007 World Cup in France.
He steered Australia to the 2003 World Cup final, which they lost at home to England, and the Brumbies to the 2001 Super Rugby final.
A former hooker, he also coached in various capacities with English Premiership club Saracens, the Brisbane-based Queensland Reds and Japanese club Suntory Sungoliath.
Australia’s ACT Brumbies will face runaway league leaders Wellington Hurricanes while defending champions NSW Waratahs have home advantage over the Otago Highlanders in next weekend’s Super Rugby semi-finals.
The Brumbies, twice championship winners, ended South African hopes of claiming the southern hemisphere provincial title with a 39-19 win over the Western Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday.
It is the first time since 2003 that a South African side has missed out on the last four and five years since the last team from the republic, Northern Bulls, won the championship.
The Waratahs, who along with the Hurricanes skipped the opening play-off round, will tackle the Highlanders in Sydney after Otago ended the Waikato Chiefs’ quest for a third title in a 24-14 victory in Dunedin.
Both the Hurricanes and Highlanders have yet to win the Super Rugby title in the 19 years of the competition.
The Waratahs have won 13 of their 19 encounters with the Highlanders, but lost to the Kiwi side 26-19 in round five this season in Dunedin.
The Hurricanes, who finished 14 points clear at the top of the regular season standings, have lost their last four meetings with the Brumbies, including two in Wellington, the venue for this week’s semi-final.
Winger Joe Tomane scored a hat-trick of tries in the Brumbies’ comprehensive win over the Stormers, wreaking havoc in the opening half, crossing for three tries within 25 minutes of the kick-off.
Prop Scott Sio barged over for a fourth try for the Australian outfit and the visitors led 24-6 at half-time.
The South Africans fared better early in the second half and twice got within eight points, but never looked like snatching victory.
No. 8 Ita Vaea and fullback Jesse Mogg also crossed the try-line for the Brumbies and fly-half Christian Lealiifano kicked three conversions and a penalty.
Mogg scored when his side were two men short after winger Henry Speight was red-carded for a dangerous tackle and flanker Scott Fardy yellow-carded for a professional foul.
Speight’s chances of playing against the Hurricanes may depend on a SANZAR judiciary hearing this week.
It was an intensely physical encounter with not only a place in the semis on the line but also a last chance to impress the All Blacks’ selectors ahead of the naming of a 40-man squad for next month’s Rugby Championship.
Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo, widely expected to earn his All Blacks call up, did his chances no harm with two tries, both engineered by Aaron Smith going to the short side from the back of a scrum.
The Chiefs, who lost twice to the Highlanders in the regular season, seized the lead nearing half-time when a third Andrew Horrell penalty have them a 9-8 lead at the turn.
But Naholo’s second try soon after the resumption returned the initiative to the Highlanders and they never fell behind again as they entered the southern hemisphere championship semi-finals for the first time since 2002.
South African rugby hard man Bismarck du Plessis cried Saturday after his final Super Rugby appearance for the Coastal Sharks ended in a 34-12 home victory over Western Stormers.
Du Plessis, a 31-year-old rated among the best hookers in the world, is moving to France with elder brother and Sharks prop Jannie to play in the Top 14 competition.
While the brothers have not disclosed who they are joining, reports link them with Montpellier, where 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks coach Jake White is in charge.
“Durban has been a very special place for me,” said tearful Bismarck at Kings Park stadium in the Indian Ocean city after his 130th appearance for the Sharks, “and I will never forget my 11 seasons here.
“I will miss my team-mates, the supporters and everyone who helped me develop my career.
“I was once the seventh-choice hooker at the Cheetahs and now I am told I am among the best in the world,” Bismarck added after receiving the official man-of-the-match award.
Bismarck recalled how he joined the Sharks after several seasons with the Bloemfontein-based Central Cheetahs.
“I remember writing my last examinations and packing everything I owned into a little Volkswagen Beetle.
“It took me about 12 hours to drive from Bloemfontein to Durban in a car that could not go much faster than 80 kilometres an hour.
“I had to fill up about six times because it had only a small petrol tank,” he said..
Du Plessis and Northern Bulls hooker Adriaan Strauss are considered certainties to be included in the 31-man Springboks squad for the World Cup in England this September and October.
Bismarck scored the third of five tries as the Sharks romped to victory over a second-string Stormers side after leading 13-9 at half-time.
Sensing they were going to finish third whatever the result, the Cape Town outfit rested their first choices ahead of a home Qualifier (quarter-final) against Australians ACT Brumbies next Saturday.
Fly-half Lionel Cronje, scrum-half Stefan Ungerer, full-back Lwazi Mvovo and winger Odwa Ndungane were the other try scorers for the winners.
Cronje kicked two conversions and a penalty and his replacement, Fred Zeilinga, slotted a conversion.
The bonus-point victory had no effect on the Sharks’ final placing, though, as they came 11th, 13 points adrift of the last play-off position.
Stormers fly-half Kurt Coleman shrugged off woeful recent place-kicking form to succeed with his four penalty attempts.