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Waratahs go to top as Bulls stumble

Waratahs go to top as Bulls stumble

The Bulls' first loss in more than 12 months dropped them from first place in rugby's Super 14 after eighth-round matches that included the Western Force's first win of the season.
The defending champion Bulls' six-match winning streak this season and 12-match winning run since April 2009 ended as they extended a 14-year losing streak at Auckland's Eden Park, handing the championship lead to the New South Wales Waratahs.
New South Wales began the round in fourth place in the standings and moved into top spot after beating the Cheetahs 40-17 while the first-place Bulls and second-place Stormers, both from South Africa, had eighth-round losses.
The Waratahs have played one more match than the Bulls and have a 6-2 record, 28 championship points and a points difference of plus 70 while the Bulls are now 6-1 with 28 points and a plus 59 differential.
The Canterbury Crusaders stayed in third place after a 26-26 draw with the Wellington Hurricanes and have a 5-1-1 record with 25 points while the Stormers (5-2) have 24 points after 16-15 stoppage-time loss to the Force in Perth.
The Durban-based Sharks, who beat the Queensland Reds 30-28, were the only South African team to play at home and the only one to win in round eight. Queensland took two bonus points from the match to improve from sixth to fifth in the standings, despite its third loss in seven games.
The Waikato Chiefs beat the Otago Highlanders 27-21 to move to sixth place and remain in playoffs contention while the Blues, now eighth, also kept their semifinals hopes alive.
The performances of the Bulls and Stormers demonstrated the vulnerability of South African teams playing away from home. The Bulls have won 15 straight games on their home ground in Pretoria but have managed only four wins in 32 matches in New Zealand.
Auckland matched the Bulls' formidable forward pack on Saturday, dominated territory and possession and scored two tries on one.
"The Blues played well. They used their opportunities," Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said. "They kept the pressure on us the whole time and we couldn't capitalize on the few opportunities we had."
Blues coach Pat Lam said his team had been determined to end a trend of narrow losses.
"I look at our losses this year and it's been intercept passes and games that have gone right to the wire," he said.
Former All Blacks flyhalf David Hill kicked a drop goal after the final siren to give the Western Force their first win. The Force have no chance of reaching the playoffs but coach John Mitchell said they would continue to improve.
"We can get so much better so there's the exciting thing," Mitchell said.
The Hurricanes' playoff chances took a severe knock when referee Jonathan Kaplan awarded a try after the final siren to allow the Crusaders the draw in the opening match of the round.
Prop Al Baxter celebrated his 100th Super rugby match with a try as the Waratahs beat the Cheetahs in Sydney.
"It's fun to score, but I don't think my main job out there is to be running down the sideline like a winger scoring tries," said Baxter, whose one and only try for the Wallabies came in his 50th test, against Canada at the 2007 World Cup in France.
"I'm one for milestones. No, I'm a front-rower and tighthead prop, so it's set piece first and foremost, and hard yards around the field."
The Sharks scored three tries in 22 minutes after Queensland led 21-9.
"We were a bit too loose in the first half," said Sharks captain John Smit, who was celebrating his 32nd birthday. "But we came together and realized we had to make a change of tactics and tighten things up. We got a few dividends from that and I am just happy with the boys reacting."


Updated : 2021-04-18 20:38 GMT+08:00