SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia’s ACT Brumbies are back at the top of rugby’s Super 15 after cashing in on defending champions Waikato Chiefs’ slip up at home to the Queensland Reds this weekend.
The Brumbies, who lost the outright lead in a draw at home with the Southern Kings the previous weekend, bounced back with a 30-19 victory over the win-less Otago Highlanders in Dunedin.
The Canberra-based outfit jumped to a four-point lead in the overall standings after the Chiefs went down 31-23 for a fourth straight loss against the Reds in Hamilton.
The race for the South African conference tightened after the Western Stormers downed the Coastal Sharks 22-15 in Cape Town and the Central Cheetahs lost their five-game unbeaten run against the Northern Bulls 26-20 in Pretoria.
Auckland Blues closed to within two points of the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference with a bonus-point 28-6 victory over the Wellington Hurricanes in Auckland.
Western Force made it three Australian wins over New Zealand teams this weekend with a gutsy 16-14 triumph over seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders in Perth.
Fly-half Demetri Catrakilis landed a drop goal after the full-time siren to claim South Africa’s Southern Kings their first Super 15 win in Australia 30-27 over against the Rebels in Melbourne.
In Dunedin, the Brumbies erased the bleak memories of their faltering draw with the Kings with an emphatic win for the Highlanders’ seventh consecutive loss to remain anchored in last place.
Jake White’s Brumbies led 17-12 at half-time and piled on a further 13 unanswered points in the second spell before the Highlanders scored a consolation try in the closing minutes.
Quade Cooper, a controversial omission from a 30-man preliminary Wallabies squad, made an emphatic statement to national selectors ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour as he steered the Reds to victory over the Chiefs.
The playmaker was a central figure in the Reds’ bonus-point win, scoring a game-breaking try just after half-time and converting all four tries and a penalty.
A Juan de Jongh try made the difference in Cape Town as the Stormers defeated the Sharks in a forward-dominated South African derby.
Springbok centre De Jongh crossed to help the home team build a 16-6 half-time lead they successfully defended under intense second-half pressure.
The Blues continued their mid-season recovery with a strong win over the Hurricanes, scoring four tries, all converted by Chris Noakes.
The Hurricanes, who went into the match on a four-game winning streak, were faced with a ferocious Blues defence which restricted their point scoring to just a penalty and a drop goal.
The Bulls celebrated their 75th birthday at home in fitting fashion with a hard-fought win over the Cheetahs in a full-blooded South African derby.
The match took a decisive turn early in the second-half when the Bulls scored 10 points in four minutes to turn a 9-6 half-time deficit into a seven-point lead.
Western Force recorded one of the upsets of the season, stunning the Crusaders in Perth.
Anchored near the foot of the table and perennial losers at home, the Force played with bravado and freedom to catch the Crusaders by surprise and build an early lead and then hold on it under great pressure.
The Kings, in their debut season in Super Rugby, downed the Rebels on the back of their fighting draw with the Brumbies.
The Rebels looked to have done enough after fighting back from 14-0 down to lead 27-17 with 27 minutes left.
But the Port Elizabeth-based Kings drew level in the final minutes with a converted try from Wimpie van der Walt and then Catrakilis clinched victory with his drop goal.