Crusaders unbeaten run foiled by Stormers   2 May 2006

The Stormers broke the Crusaders’ unbeaten run, the Hurricanes took maximum points while the Chiefs and Blues bowed out of semifinal contentiona and the Highlanders were cowed by the mighty Waratahs. ELLIE VAN BAAREN looks at round 12.

Now we have a competition. Last weekend we saw the Crusaders stumble and this weekend they fell. To the 11th-placed Stormers. And now they’ve been supplanted at the top of the points table, even if it is just through points differential. Things have just got interesting again.

Coach Robbie Deans had rested playmaker Richie McCaw and dropped Leon MacDonald and Daniel Carter to the bench, no doubt with his eyes on the semifinals. But even when Carter and MacDonald were injected after half time, with the visitors down 13-3, they couldn’t stop the rot as the Stormers grew in confidence.

It may not be a coincidence that the Crusaders are stumbling at this stage of the competition considering under the old Super 12 format, they would already be preparing for semis. Instead they now face two more matches, neither of which could be termed givens. First up are the Bulls at home, a team that the Crusaders have lost their last two away games to, and lastly the Brumbies who seem to be peaking after thrashing the Reds 36-0 in round 12.

It’s far too soon to start talking about the Canterbury team missing the semifinals altogether but if they’re not careful they’ll lose their home advantage for the semis, thus making things even harder for themselves.

The Waratahs don’t have it easy either, facing the Chiefs and the Hurricanes in their final two matches. But if the Crusaders do succumb to the Bulls this weekend, it will not only affect their playoff hopes, it will also put the Bulls right in the frame to kick one of the current top four teams out of the semis.

The Hurricanes did themselves a lot of favours by claiming full points in the 35-10 win over the Chiefs in Wellington. Hooker Andrew Hore scored a hat trick, becoming the only hooker to score three tries in one match during the Super 12 or 14 competitions.

Now only three points adrift of the Waratahs and the Crusaders, a thrashing of the Reds at home on Friday would give them a good chance of securing a home semi, before finishing their regular season against the Waratahs in Sydney.

The Waratahs downed the Highlanders 20-3 at a fittingly wild, wet and windy Dunedin on Friday. Surface water and rain meant that ball handling skills were tested to the maximum and the Highlanders’ attack in the first quarter kept the Waratahs camped on their own line. But the Sydneysiders’ defence held strong and the difference on attack was their superboot Peter Hewat. Hewat’s tactical kicking took on even greater importance considering the conditions and his accurate goal kicking contributed 10 points to the scoreline.

Meanwhile the Highlanders finish another season mid table, and must now face the rampant Brumbies in Canberra.

The Blues fought through sleeplessness and food poisoning to hold on for a 34-33 win over the Cheetahs at Eden Park in a gutsy performance that saw first five-eighth Luke McAlister take man of the match.

The North Harbour player scored 17 points, including a try, and it was his accurate boot that ended up the difference between the two sides – if Meyer Bosman’s last second conversion had gone over, the Cheetahs would have been taking home maximum points.

Lastly, commiserations again rest with the Western Force who were again denied their first win by a last minute try. The John-Mitchell coached side drew 34-all with the Cats after leading 21-3 at half-time. It seems the new franchise is destined to finish winless. They now face the Cheetahs followed by the Sharks, both in South Africa.

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