sharks fade as bulls run riot

The Bulls can hardly be kept out of the semifinals, while the Sharks have to rely on results of other matches and also beat the Bulls in the last round to be there.

The Bulls can hardly be kept out of the semifinals, while the Sharks have to rely on results of other matches and also beat the Bulls in the last round to be there.

That, in a nutshell, is the result of this weekend's Super14 matches in which the Sharks lost to the Waratahs in Durban, while the Bulls were made to work hard for their last-gasp bonus point try.

The Bulls, even if they lose to the Sharks in Durban next weekend, also have to lose their points differential of 57 over the Brumbies and not get a bonus point in their loss to the Sharks to be eliminated from the semi-finals.

Tournament favourites until a few weeks ago, the Sharks are now sixth on the log. They have to beat the Bulls and then hope the log-leading Chiefs beat the Brumbies in Hamilton and that the Blues can down the Crusaders.

The Waratahs, who play the Lions in Johannesburg on Friday night, can also still end ahead of the Sharks with a good win and are thus a playoff danger to the Durbanites.

The Bulls, at times, were impressive and looked like tournament champions beating the bottom-of-the-log Cheetahs 29-20. Their forwards bashed it up, their backs ran well, and Bryan Habana and Wynand Olivier, in particular were very, very good.

Unfortunately, they again had what their captain, Victor Matfield, calls their "soft moments" - like the try by Cheetahs No 8 Hendro Scholtz, which wasn't one according to the laws of rugby but counted in the book of referee Stuart Dickinson.

The 90m run by Jongi Nokwe and a number of the turnovers were a blemish on a Bulls performance that otherwise was mostly impressive. If they can put it together for 80 minutes, they will be near unstoppable.

Hats off to the Cheetahs, who made 118 tackles and also missed a few with the surfeit of possession going the way of the Bulls.

The winners scrummed well, though it must be said that for 30 minutes they had only 14 men against them because of three yellow cards.

The Bulls drove well, cleaned well and basically played well, but will have to give attention to the turnovers that they allowed too easily against a side that legally and illegally slowed down their ball at the breakdowns.

Feature of the match? Habana is back at his very best. He made the first try with a gem of a swerve and enough speed to make critics retract what they have said about his pace.

The Sharks, whose depth was under the spotlight from the outset, put up probably their worst performance of the season and could show only four penalties for their efforts in losing 16-12 to the Waratahs in Durban.

They chose wrong options and made little penetration. The 16 missed tackles in the match were a continuation of the season's pattern.

The Stormers eliminated the Western Force 25-24 at Newlands and it took some guts, at times good defence and two good tries by the recalled Joe Pietersen to clinch only their fourth win of the season.

The Stormers made 85 tackles, missed 22 and were behind in the possession stakes but halfbacks Dewaldt Duvenage and Willem de Waal kept the pressure on the visitors with some good tactical kicking.

Despite the win, the Stormers are now in 12th position after the Lions's 27-22 win in Johannesburg over the Highlanders on Friday night.

Louis Ludik was again dangerous and dependable for the Lions after he took over at fullback from a poor Earl Rose. Jano Vermaak added to his list of impressive performance while Willem Alberts was involved in three of the Lions's four tries.

The clash between the Chiefs and Hurricanes in Hamilton was a mini-final. The difference in a low-scoring match was Chiefs flyhalf Stephen Donald.

He scored all his side's points, but it was his all-round play and especially his tactical kicking which saw his side win 16-8 and demote the Hurricanes to third place on the log.

The Crusaders played clinical, impressive rugby in downing the Reds 32-12 in Christchurch. They play the Blues this weekend, and a bonus point win - a likely prospect - will almost certainly see the defending champions qualify after a hesitant start to the season.

The Brumbies were good and at times impressive in beating the Blues 37-15 in Canberra. -Sapa