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17 Apr 2006 09:31
The Canterbury Crusaders stamped their authority on the Super 14 rugby competition with a record breaking 16th straight win as a bottleneck of teams just outside the top four found themselves running out of time to cement a semifinal spot.
The Crusaders last lost in April a year ago, and they were never close to doing so on Saturday in a crushing 53-17 win over the Central Cheetahs.
Last year’s beaten finalists, the New South Wales Waratahs, again look like contenders, proving they are Australia’s top side this season with a 37-14 win over the ACT Brumbies.
The Sydney-based Waratahs lie in second place with a five point margin over the Wellington Hurricanes, although they have played one more game than the other top four teams, including the Brumbies, who clung to fourth spot despite the loss.
Meanwhile crunch time has come for another five teams just outside the top four.
The Northern Bulls lie fifth on 23 points after a narrow 20-19 loss to the Queensland Reds in Brisbane. Then come the Coastal Sharks, the Waikato Chiefs, the Auckland Blues and the Otago Highlanders, all on 22 points.
The Highlanders have played 10 matches, one more than the others, and now have little hope of a semifinal spot following their 29-13 home loss to Hurricanes.
The Highlanders would have fancied their chances with a 13-5 halftime lead but the individual brilliance of the star-studded Hurricanes made the difference in the second spell with four unanswered tries in a scrappy performance.
The Brumbies also held their own in the first half with the scores locked at 14-14 at the break.
But the departure of playmaker flyhalf Stephen Larkham with an injured hamstring in the unlucky 13th minute was followed by a three tries to none in the second half.
The Sharks took a bonus point victory in Johannesburg as the woeful Golden Cats slumped to their eighth defeat of the season.
The Sharks scored four tries for the bonus point with the 36-8 victory against their fellow South Africans.
The Bulls’ failure to capitalise on their huge forward pack in a one-point loss to the Reds may cost them dearly, leaving them five points shy of the top four.
“We have to win everything now and get a few bonus points as well to reach the semis,” captain Victor Matfield said.
The Chiefs joined the crowd just outside the top four with a come-from-behind 30-20 win over the Western Stormers, taking the lead with 12 minutes to play in an ugly spectacle in Tauranga.
The Crusaders applied their typical relentless pressure to run in seven tries in their victory over the Cheetahs, after the sides were locked at 10-10 after 20 minutes.
By halftime they already had their bonus point with a commanding 32-10 lead, and flyhalf Dan Carter was again dominant with a 28-point haul.
The Blues’ 39-8 win over cellar-dwellers the Western Force was overshadowed Friday by the 16-week suspension of centre Rua Tipoki for striking Force flyhalf James Hilgendorf.
The judicial committee’s punishment was the heaviest ever imposed on a New Zealand player by a Sanzar (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia Rugby) panel.
Hilgendorf was hit just six minutes into the match and had to be helped off the field after suffering a fractured eye socket and concussion.
Tipoki said the blow was unintentional but the panel ruled otherwise and noted that he had twice before been cited for striking offences. - Sapa-AFP
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