The Waikato Chiefs yesterday held on grimly to stave off a late assault by the visiting Coastal Sharks and maintain top spot in the Super Rugby standings after an energy-sapping 24-22 win in New Plymouth.
The Waikato side were outscored three tries to two, but costly lapses of discipline cost the Sharks dearly in the second half, allowing flyhalf Aaron Cruden to slot three penalties for some vital breathing space.
The Sharks’ replacement hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle set up a tense finish with a late try, but the Chiefs soaked up the final minutes deep in attack, clinging to the ball until Cruden could boot it into touch to seal the win.
“We’re very pleased to get the win, albeit a fraction ugly, but that’s what you’ve got to do against tough teams,” Chiefs captain Sam Cane said in a pitch-side interview. “We didn’t kick very well in that first half... and we were forcing too many passes without building any phases so that was what was costing us. We tightened it up a wee bit in the second half.”
The Chiefs leapt out of the blocks with a try in the opening minute to center Seta Tamanivalu and stormed to a 15-3 lead after 23 minutes following another five-pointer to No. 8 Michael Leitch.
The Durban side pegged back the deficit with a try to prop Kyle Cooper, who shoved over near the left corner after a textbook lineout drive.
Flyhalf Garth April beat four defenders in a brilliant, jinking run to grab a second try and level the game at 15-15 at the break.
All Black Cruden edged the Chiefs ahead with three penalties, his last giving the home side a nine-point lead with 11 minutes left.
It triggered a frantic Sharks assault on the Chiefs’ line which ended with Ralepelle barging over at the back of another imperious rolling maul.
April’s nerveless conversion from a tight angle made it a two-point game, but at the end of a taxing New Zealand tour, the Sharks were unable to win back possession from iron-willed opponents bent on gritting out the win.
“I think we hung in there ... We just let them off the hook at crucial times,” Sharks captain Keegan Daniel said after the team’s fourth loss of the season.
“We’ve come away with six points on the tour so we’ll look back and say ‘we’ll take six’ and regroup back home,” he said.
Bulls 42, Force 20
South Africa’s Bulls yesterday kept their surprising season on track with a comfortable 42-20 win over the struggling Western Force in Perth.
The visitors made it six wins from eight matches, with one draw, and they are on target for the playoffs after pulling away in the second half against the Force.
The Force have won just one match from nine outings and are well out of contention as pressure mounts on coach Michael Foley.
The game was in the balance when the Bulls led 18-13 at the break, with the South Africans running in the first two tries of the game through Hanro Liebenberg and Jan Serfontein in the opening 20 minutes.
The Perth-based Force struck back through skipper Matt Hodgson in the 26th minute.
However, the Bulls put the margin beyond a converted try after the resumption, with a penalty to Francois Brummer in the 49th minute.
They then broke the game open with three tries in 15 minutes as the Force wilted and suddenly found themselves down 42-13.
A second try to Serfontein as he broke through the defense in the 54th minute gave the Bulls a commanding lead.
Five minutes later, skipper Adriaan Strauss capitalized after a line-out win to score.
The Force were on their knees and Strauss finished them off by driving over the line for his second try in the 67th minute.
The home side scored a consolation try after the final hooter through Kyle Godwin.
Strauss was delighted with the performance ahead of a trip to Canberra to face the Brumbies.
“Very happy with the performance,” he said. “They stuck to the game plan until the end. The forwards and the backs did quite well tonight and worked hard for each other.”
Force skipper Matt Hodgson said his side were competitive for large parts of the match.
“We were in it for a lot of the game, but weren’t tough enough,” he said. “They got some momentum, got back-to-back tries and they are hard to stop.”
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