Rugby: Chiefs still holding court

Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs kicks ahead during the round 14 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images.
Aaron Cruden of the Chiefs kicks ahead during the round 14 Super Rugby match between the Chiefs and the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images.

As the international window looms closer, the Chiefs still sit atop of the Super 15 standings after the Sharks managed to knock over the Stormers 25-20 on Sunday morning (NZT).

The Chiefs ground their way to a 28-22 win on the back of a stellar defensive effort that was further evidence of how much the franchise has improved under the guidance of first-year head coach Dave Rennie.

The boot of Morne Steyn kept the Bulls in the contest, but the Chiefs managed to snap a four-game losing streak against the men from Pretoria after Andrew Horrell, Asaeli Tikoirotuma and impressive young gun Sam Cane scored tries.

The Chiefs now meet the lowly Blues in Albany next weekend before the international break kicks in.

The Waikato-based Chiefs hold a three-point lead in the overall standings ahead of the Stormers and a seven-point advantage over the Crusaders in the New Zealand conference.

The Crusaders enjoyed a bye weekend and will host the Highlanders in Christchurch next week.

That Southern derby will be a vital game for both sides as the push for a wildcard spot in the top six heats up.

The Highlanders kept their momentum going as they accounted for the Blues 27-20 in Auckland on Saturday night and crucially managed to bank a bonus point for scoring four tries.

Jamie Joseph's side have made a habit of winning close encounters this year and World Cup-winning All Black Hosea Gear inspired the Highlanders with two tries.

Playing in their controversial green away strip, the Highlanders also showed plenty of enterprise on attack with the versatile Ben Smith impressing at fullback.

For the Blues, it was their 11th loss in 13 games as their season to forget went from bad to worse.

Under-fire coach Pat Lam tried mixing up his line-up and relegated All Blacks Ma'a Nonu, Ali Williams and Piri Weepu to the bench but it did little for the Auckland side.

It seems almost unfair, given how sharp they have been with ball in hand this year, but the Hurricanes remained in fourth place in the New Zealand conference and ninth overall despite hammering the Melbourne Rebels 66-24.

Big wing Julian Savea bagged a hat-trick as Mark Hammett's side racked up a record points tally and kept their faint playoff chances alive.

They have the same number of points as the defending-champion Reds, but competition wins are used as the tiebreaker this year rather than points differential and the Reds have won eight games to the Hurricanes' seven.

The Reds' eighth win was a hard-fought one on Saturday night as they tipped over the Brumbies 13-12 in Canberra in a game that was important for the Queensland side's post-season aspirations.

The Brumbies now only lead the Australian conference by five points over the Reds who are eighth place overall.

In the other game played across the Tasman on Saturday, the Force beat the Lions 17-11 in Perth.

The result marked the fifth consecutive victory for the Force over the John Mitchell-coached Lions, although they remain anchored the bottom of the Australia conference, while Lions are last overall, behind the Blues.

In South Africa, the Cheetahs beat the Waratahs 35-34 in an entertaining contest that featured nine tries Sunday morning (NZT).

The more important match played in the Republic though, as far as New Zealanders were concerned, was the Sharks' battle with the Stormers in Durban.

The Sharks' victory put them in to the top six on 45 points, although the Stormers (50 points) still lead the South African conference by two points over the Bulls (48).


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