New South Wales, Otago, the defending champion Bulls and Sharks remain perfect after two rounds of rugby’s Super 15 tournament, with the Waratahs doing it in emphatic fashion — two bonus-point wins, including 30-6 over their archrivals Queensland.
The Waratahs never let the Reds get into the match at Sydney on Saturday. The Sharks never trailed in beating the Auckland Blues 26-12, Otago was behind at halftime before defeating Waikato 23-13 while the Bulls needed a late try to edge the Cheetahs 25-23.
The Melbourne Rebels won their first game, 25-24 over ACT, while South Africa’s Stormers, who had a first-round bye, made a winning start, defeating the Lions 19-16. The Western Force had a weekend bye.
The match that received the most attention ahead of the round was one that was not played — the Christchurch-based Canterbury Crusaders cancelled their match against Wellington due to the devastating earthquake that hit their city on Tuesday. The match was declared a draw and each team received two points in the standings.
The victims of the quake were not forgotten. Before matches at Cape Town, Durban and Bloemfontein, the players paid respects to those who died by observing a minute’s silence and wearing black-and-red armbands — Canterbury’s colours — with flags at half-mast.
There were also moments of silence at other stadiums and references to the victims of the earthquake.
At Bloemfontein, Springbok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez scored a 77th-minute try and flyhalf Morne Steyn kicked the conversion to give the defending champions their close win. Cheetahs captain Juan Smith passed a late fitness test on an injured ankle, but lasted just two minutes and was forced to leave the field, playing no further part in the game.
Unconfirmed reports on the Super 15 website said Smith has been ruled out for the entire Super 15 rugby season and may miss the World Cup after tearing his Achilles tendon. Smith would also miss the Tri-Nations, and possibly the Springboks’ defence of their world title. The World Cup begins on September 9 in New Zealand.
The reports, quoting Cheetahs sources, say he will have surgery early next week. The 69-times capped Smith was a World Cup winner in 2007.
“They didn’t allow us anything,” Bulls captain Victor Matfield said of his side’s sub-par performance. “They stopped us in front of the advantage line the whole time, but luckily the guys kept their heads, showed some character and we pulled it through at the end.
“It’s an ugly win,” added Matfield. “But we’d rather take the ugly wins than the losses.”
Replacement flanker Pieter Louw dived over in the 75th minute and fellow substitute Peter Grant kicked the conversion to give the Stormers — last year’s runners-up — their win at Newlands.
The Stormers lost captain Schalk Burger at halftime, after the Springboks flanker took a knock to his knee. He was withdrawn as a precaution.
At Durban, a converted try and three penalties by flyhalf Patrick Lambie gave the Sharks a first-half lead over Auckland which the visitors never threatened to chase down.
“Not a lot of teams would keep them from scoring tries, but we did that today,” Sharks captain Stefan Terblanche said. “I’m more happy about the 12 than the 26 in the scoreline and the no tries against us.”
At Sydney, David Dennis, Drew Mitchell, Benn Robinson and Lachlan Turner scored tries as the Waratahs moved to 2-0 on the season with 10 points.
Flyhalf Quade Cooper kicked two penalties to give Queensland its only points.
Queensland captain James Horwill was forced from the field with an ankle injury, but he hoped it would not affect the rest of his season.
“I am hoping it is just a sprained ankle,” Horwill said. “We just need to go back to basics, to get tougher in defense.”
Former England international Danny Cipriani’s 37-meter penalty with 10 seconds left gave the first-year Rebels their win over the Brumbies. It followed a demoralising 43-0 loss by the Rebels to the Waratahs in their opener.
At Dunedin, New Zealand, the surprising Highlanders overcame a 13-6 halftime deficit to beat Waikato. Otago finished 11th in the last two seasons of Super rugby but have flourished in the new competition and are in first place in the New Zealand conference.
“It’s about getting respect back in our jersey,” Highlanders captain Jamie McIntosh said. “A great crowd turns up, the boys get a win and you’ve got to cherish it.” – Sapa-AP