Waratahs, Crusaders close in on table-topping Sharks
Sydney: The New South Wales Waratahs and Canterbury Crusaders are poised to take over top spot in Super Rugby after the Coastal Sharks` shock loss this weekend.
The Durban-based outfit went down to the Western Stormers 21-19 at home to reduce their lead in the southern hemisphere provincial series to just two points.
The Sharks` lead is under siege with the Waratahs and Crusaders having a match in hand after the Super 15 competition resumes on June 27 following a three-week Test window.
Michael Cheika`s Waratahs are surging into title contention after their 33-17 victory over defending champions Waikato Chiefs for their fourth straight win and their first success in New Zealand since 2010.
Seven-time Super Rugby champions Canterbury rolled Australia`s Western Force 30-7 aided by two late penalty tries to stay top of the New Zealand conference and third overall.
The Brumbies kept in the race for the Australian conference with a lively 37-10 bonus point win over the Melbourne Rebels in Canberra.
Only five points now separate the top four teams in Super Rugby heading into the final regular rounds before next month`s top-six playoffs.
The Otago Highlanders lost ground but hold fifth overall after going down 38-31 to the Queensland Reds in Brisbane with the winning try coming after the fulltime siren.
The Wellington Hurricanes picked up a bonus point in a 37-24 loss to the Blues in Auckland, while the Golden Lions defeated the Northern Bulls for the first time with a 32-21 victory in Johannesburg. The Central Cheetahs had a bye.
A drop goal by fullback Jaco Taute 20 seconds into stoppage time gave the Stormers an unexpected four competition points in Durban for only the Sharks` fourth loss of the season.
Sharks scored first in the South African derby, turned over 16-9 ahead and never trailed until the last kick of the game.
The Durban outfit will drop to third if the Australian and New Zealand conference leaders win games in hand.
League places are potentially crucial as the team finishing first is guaranteed a home semi-final and, if successful, a home final too.
A late surge by the Waratahs, sparked by a captain`s try from Dave Dennis, carried them to victory over the Chiefs in New Plymouth.
While the Waratahs march on the Chiefs` hopes of defending their crown for a third time lie in tatters following a fifth loss that leaves them two points outside the top six.
The Crusaders froze out the Force as temperatures dropped to zero at their home ground.
The Force, the surprise team in this year`s Super 15, can still make the playoffs for the first time but will most likely need to win two of their final three fixtures.
The Brumbies` six-try romp over the Rebels was a stark contrast to their last home win against the Sharks three weeks ago, with far less kicking and an intent to run the ball.
It was a positive Brumbies outfit that raced to a 17-3 lead inside 16 minutes with three tries, two of them to Wallaby back Matt Toomua.
The Reds dotted down after the fulltime siren to snatch victory after the Highlanders had levelled the scores with a try by Japanese international Fumiaki Tanaka in the final minute of regular time.
But the Reds regrouped to bag the clinching try, sending number eight Jake Schatz over the chalk 18 phases and two and a half minutes after the siren.
The Blues kept their slim finals hopes alive as they defended a proud Eden Park record to trounce the Hurricanes.
Marnitz Boshoff kicked 22 points as the Lions defeated the Bulls to move off the bottom of the table to 13th, halting a run of seven consecutive Super 15 losses.