Vodacom Super 14

Crusaders slump to lowest ebb

2009-03-08 08:54
Crusaders slump (Gallo Images)
Wellington - The defending champions Canterbury Crusaders slumped to their third straight loss in rugby's Super 14, going scoreless for the first time in their history in a 6-0 loss to the Highlanders.
As South Africa's Bulls and Sharks and the Waratahs maintained unbeaten records through four games, the Crusaders dropped back to eighth place on the championship ladder, 10 points off the lead and six from the bottom of the table.

Defeat in the lowest-scoring match in the 14-year history of Super rugby on Saturday left the Crusaders with only a single win (19-13) from their opening match against the Chiefs and with losses to the Brumbies, Hurricanes and the previously winless Highlanders.

All Blacks captain and Canterbury captain Richie McCaw limped from the field in the 30th minute of the match at Carisbrook, Dunedin with a medial ligament strain, adding to the toll from the match for his team.

McCaw's injury will be more closely examined Monday but it is likely he will join his All Blacks and Crusaders teammate Dan Carter on the sideline, where Carter will spend six months recovering from a partially ruptured Achilles tendon.

The Highlanders broke a three-match losing streak in winning Saturday's match with two second-half penalties to flyhalf Daniel Bowden, the only scoring opportunities for either side in either half.

"We had a clear mind-set coming into tonight's game and that was to win, at any cost," Highlanders captain Jimmy Cowan said. "It's been a long time coming."

The Durban-based Sharks made it four from four for the season and two out of two on the road, taking a four-try bonus point from a 35-31 win over the Blues at Auckland.

J.P. Pietersen, Jacques Botes, Steven Sykes and Springbok captain John Smit scored tries for the Sharks, the South African Currie Cup champions, who lie third on the table, a point behind joint leaders the Bulls and Waratahs.

"We do know how to win," Sharks coach John Plumtree said. We won 12 games in a row in the Currie Cup and now four in Super 14, so I would say one of the qualities of this team is finding ways to win."

The Bulls reclaimed their place at the top of the table with a 14-10 win over compatriots the Stormers in front of a sellout crowd of 50,000 at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria.

Wynand Olivier scored the Bulls' only try while the Stormers were reduced to 14 men by the sin-binning of hooker Schalk Brits, giving his team a decisive advantage and maintaining their seven-year winning streak over the Stormers.

Springboks lock Victor Matfield made a key contribution when he took the field from the bench in the second half.

"We showed a lot of patience but it's tough to keep the ball for longer than three or four phases with the experimental laws," Matfield said.

The Waratahs continued their unbeaten run with a 15-11 win over the Reds in an intensely contested interstate derby. No. 8 Wycliff Palu suffered a broken hand and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau was knocked unconscious during a rugged physical match.

"I don't think he knows where he is," Palu said of roommate Polota-Nau. "I think I'll have to take him home. He could end up in someone else's home. But I think he should be OK. He's a tough bloke."

In other matches, the Chiefs broke a three-match losing streak with a 31-13 win over the Western Force and the Hurricanes posted its third straight win, taking a four-try bonus point from a 29-12 win over the Cheetahs.


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