Wellington, New Zealand. South Africa’s Stormers beat the Queensland Reds 23-13 in the ninth round of rugby’s Super 15, marking the midpoint of the regular season in a match that saw the campaigns of the defending champions and title pretenders diverge.
The Cape Town-based Stormers recovered from their first loss of the season — last week to the Canterbury Crusaders — and the absence of injured captain Jean de Villiers to post their seventh win in eight matches.
The defending champion Reds slumped to their fourth loss in their last five games to fall to 10th place overall, 14 points behind the tournament-leading Waikato Chiefs, who beat the Durban-based Sharks 18-12 for their seventh straight win.
It was the Chiefs’ third road win in succession and gives them two-point lead over the Stormers and Bulls in the overall table.
The Bulls edged the ACT Brumbies 36-34 in a matchup of conference leaders to remain level with the Stormers at the top of the South African conference. The Otago Highlanders beat the Auckland Blues 30-27 in the opening match of the round on Friday to remain second behind the Chiefs in New Zealand and fifth in the overall table.
The New South Wales Waratahs beat the Melbourne Rebels 30-21 to move within a point of the Brumbies at the top of the Australian conference while the seven-time champion Crusaders continued their midseason form improvement with a 42-14 win over the Wellington Hurricanes.
The Chiefs continued to surpass expectations, clinching their win over the Sharks with a try to replacement scrum-half Augustine Pulu after the final hooter.
Flyhalf Aaron Cruden’s 13 points kept the visitors ahead from the moment he crossed for a try in the 19th minute. He also kicked the conversion and two penalties while Pulu’s 81st-minute try kept the Chiefs unbeaten since their loss to the Highlanders in round one.
The Sharks closed to within a point at 13-12 with Patrick Lambie’s fourth penalty in the 67th minute but the Springboks back missed a long-range attempt with 10 minutes to go and the Chiefs closed out victory.
“It’s very satisfying to have a tour when you win three from three,” Chiefs captain Craig Clarke said. “It doesn’t happen very often.”
The Stormers needed to recover quickly from their first misstep of the season against Crusaders to keep up their strong challenge for the Reds’ title.
They did so on a hot Brisbane evening as flyhalf Peter Grant scored a try and kicked three penalties and two conversions to lead the Stormers with 18 points.
“We wanted to work on our attack a little bit more after last week’s loss and we pulled it off,” stand-in captain Duane Vermuelen said. “It was very humid out there, so we were very pleased to get away with the win.”
The Stormers complete their tour to Australia and New Zealand with a match in Perth next week against the Western Force, before returning home for their bye week.
On Sunday, New South Wales center Rob Horne, who scored a try, was suspended for two matches for a dangerous lifting tackle on Melbourne fullback and former Waratah Kurtley Beale.
Horne was shown a yellow card for the incident, but the SANZAR citing commissioner said it should have been red.
All Blacks star Dan Carter marked his 100th match for the Crusaders with a try. Carter’s All Blacks teammate Israel Dagg scored a try in each half as the Crusaders moved into the top six on the table.
The Highlanders remained in fifth place with a narrow win over the Blues in a match in which the lead changed hands eight times.
Flyhalf Mike Delany, a one-test All Black, rejoined the Highlanders from his Japan club side and kicked 20 points in his first match of the season.