Sharks lead the Super Rugby pack
The Sharks remain unbeaten under Jake White and consolidated their lead at the top of Super Rugby with a commanding South African derby win this weekend.
In the absence of the New South Wales Waratahs and defending champions Waikato Chiefs, the Sharks put away the Golden Lions 37-23 in Durban to lead the southern hemisphere provincial series by four points.
The Sharks, prepared this year by 2007 World Cup-winning coach White, outscored the Lions four tries to two with Francois Steyn kicking 17 points.
Australia's Waratahs and the Chiefs from New Zealand had byes this weekend, but still lead their respective conferences after the fourth round of matches.
Triple champions Bulls occupy fourth place on the overall standings following their comprehensive 38-22 win over the Auckland Blues in Pretoria.
Australian contenders, ACT Brumbies and Queensland Reds, made up ground with weekend victories. The Brumbies won away in Wellington, downing the Hurricanes 29-21, while the Reds fought off South Africa's Cheetahs 43-33 in Brisbane.
Elsewhere, the Western Force won their first match of the season with a surprisingly easy 32-7 victory over the Melbourne Rebels, while the Canterbury Crusaders edged out the Stormers 14-13 in Christchurch.
Steyn was the star for the Sharks with a flawless goalkicking display to back up his team's four tries over the Lions in Durban.
Originally selected at inside centre, the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok was switched to fly-half before kick-off because Patrick Lambie felt unwell. And Steyn revelled in the playmaker role while landing four conversions and three penalties. The Sharks left it late to post their bonus-point fourth try, with flanker Marcell Coetzee getting the vital touchdown on 80 minutes.
In Pretoria, prop Marcel van der Merwe barged over for a late try to also give the Bulls a bonus-point victory over John Kirwan's Blues. After crossing the try-line three times during the first half to lead 25-12 at the break, the additional try the South Africans needed for a five-point haul continually eluded them.
But a late surge took the Bulls within metres of the New Zealanders' line, and when the ball came to replacement prop Van der Merwe near the post, his strength told.
The Brumbies, under first-season coach Stephen Larkham, shook off a sluggish start to down the Hurricanes, and showed glimpses of the form that took them to last year's Super 15 final. The Australians were behind 13-3 after 35 minutes, but unleashed a try-scoring blitz to claim 19 points either side of half-time to leave the Hurricanes winless after three matches.
The Canberra-based side secured a bonus point after finishing with four tries to two, and showed no ill-effects after this week losing Wallabies flanker David Pocock for the season with a knee injury, with Jarred Butler proving an able replacement.
Flyhalf Quade Cooper set a club point-scoring record to steer the Reds to a high-scoring win over the Cheetahs. The Wallaby playmaker kicked 18 points from three conversions and four penalty goals as the Reds bounced back from their heavy 32-5 loss to the Waratahs to claim a bonus point victory.
Queensland scored five tries to three, with Cooper becoming the Reds' highest points scorer with 638 career points, eclipsing Elton Flatley's 629.
Western Force produced an outstanding opening 30 minutes to stun the Rebels in Perth. The Force scored the first 32 points of the match to blow away the Rebels, and then restricted the Melbourne side to just a converted try in the second half.
The Crusaders snatched a last-gasp win over the Stormers to get their faltering season back on track. Fly-half Tom Taylor was the hero for the seven-time champions, landing a penalty with six minutes to go to seal victory. – AFP