Crusaders held to another draw in Super Rugby
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Super Rugby champions the Crusaders were held by the Stormers to 19-19 on Saturday to remove a little more of their aura of invincibility as the competition nears the playoff stage.
Stormers replacement flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis kicked a penalty after the final hooter to hold the runaway leaders to their second draw against South African opposition in their last three games.
The stalemate, after a dramatic final five minutes that included a controversially disallowed try, did little to diminish the Crusaders’ dominance of the league. The Christchurch-based team is nine points clear of its closest rival with four rounds of the regular season remaining.
They are still favored for a record-extending 10th title but the home 21-21 draw against the Sharks two weeks ago and Saturday’s game in Cape Town gave challengers heart that the Crusaders can be stopped.
The Crusaders have lost just once in 13 games.
Earlier in Round 14 action, the New South Wales Waratahs found closure in a turbulent week, which saw the firing of their star fullback Israel Folau, by edging Australian rivals the Queensland Reds 40-32 in a thriller.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley kicked three late penalties in a match of six lead changes to lift the Waratahs to a win which kept them in the playoffs race.
Folau’s Wallabies and Super Rugby contracts were terminated on Friday over social media posts vilifying gay people. The Waratahs overcame the Folau distraction to post their 11th straight win over the Reds but only their second win away from home this season.
The Waratahs are the only team to beat the Crusaders this season.
The Johannesburg-based Lions and Dunedin-based Highlanders scored five tries each in a back-and-forth contest that was settled right at the end when the Lions broke away to score through wing Courtnall Skosan. The 38-29 win for the Lions gave last season’s finalists hope of a strong finish to a mediocre season.
Also, the Blues kept alive their slim chances of reaching the playoffs by defeating the Chiefs 23-8 in a contentious New Zealand derby.
The Stormers had the chance to join the Waratahs as the only teams to beat the Crusaders when they were awarded a penalty deep in Crusaders territory in the dying moments at Newlands.
Instead of kicking to the corner and setting up a chance at a game-winning try, Stormers captain Siya Kolisi opted for the shot at goal and the draw, to the dismay of some of his own players.
Minutes earlier, the Crusaders were denied what probably would have been the game-winning try when Sevu Reece chased his own kick and benefited from an unexpected bounce to touch down in the right corner in the 75th minute. But the try, which would have put the Crusaders 24-16 up with a conversion to come, was ruled out after the TMO called a forward pass to Reece. The pass looked OK.
Revived by the let-off, the Stormers were on the attack for the last few minutes and fullback Damian Willemse fumbled on the try-line when he chased a kick through in the final play of the game before the penalty by du Plessis tied it up.
The Crusaders had earlier shown their mettle by coming back from 10-0 down to lead 19-10 through tries by Matt Todd, David Havilli and Braydon Ennor. The Stormers kicked their way to a draw with three second-half penalties.
There were four lead changes in the second half of the Waratahs-Reds match which evoked the best contests between fierce inter-state rivals New South Wales and Queensland.
Reds flyhalf Bryce Hegarty scored two tries early in the half to give them a 27-21 lead. But Hegarty missed five shots at goal and that proved costly in a tight match.
The Waratahs were able to reclaim the lead with the second of two tries to back-rower Michael Wells.
Hooker Alex Mafi scored to put the Reds ahead again but Foley landed his last seven kicks at goal to separate the teams.
The Blues profited from two disputed tries to post their first win over the Chiefs, their closest neighbors, in 17 meetings since 2011 and only their third win over a New Zealand opponent in 36 games.
A try after the fulltime siren gave them a bonus point which lifted them above the Chiefs into fourth place in the New Zealand conference. The Chiefs dropped to the bottom of the conference and are likely out of the playoffs running with four rounds remaining.
The match followed the trend of recent Blues performances. They made all the running, dominated possession and played a more structured game but weren’t able to convert those advantages into points while they also struggled to suppress a Chiefs team which thrived on turnovers and breakout rugby.
In a match of narrow margins, a try was given to Blues fullback Melani Nanai even though there was no evidence in replays that he ground the ball, and prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi was awarded a try even though he dropped the ball over the line.