Coastal Sharks Francois Steyn tackles Auckland Blues Ma’a Nonu in their match at Albany Stadium in Auckland. Photo: AFP
Israel Folau equalled the franchise record with his 10th try of the season as the New South Wales Waratahs beat the Melbourne Rebels 41-19 in Super Rugby on Friday to top the Australian conference.
Table leaders South Africa’s Sharks strode closer to a home semi-final with a 29-23 win over the Blues, simultaneously eliminating the Auckland-based side from play-offs contention.
In the Melbourne match, Folau touched down for the first time in three matches to equal Peter Hewat’s season record for the Waratahs, who scored six tries to one, enlarging their tally to 16 tries from their last three matches, and rose into second place on the overall ladder.
Last year, we lost down here, so we knew it was going to be tough
The Rebels, bogged in 11th place near the end of a season in which they played well above that standing, stayed close to the Waratahs for three-quarters of the match, closing to 24-19 with a 59th-minute try to Telusa Veainu.
They were eventually swamped by second-half tries to Michael Hooper, Kurtley Beale, Brendan McKibbin and Folau.
Weight of possession eventually overwhelmed the Rebels. They battled against that tide in the first half, even seizing the lead at 9-8 after Rob Horne scored the opening try for the Waratahs.
“We controlled possession well,” Waratahs captain Dave Dennis said. “Probably our discipline and our goalkicking let us down a bit but to come away from Melbourne with a bonus point is a really good effort.
“Last year, we lost down here, so we knew it was going to be tough. At half-time they were still in it, so we knew we were going to have to keep working in that second half and I was really pleased with that effort.”
Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham said the game got away from his team in the second half.
“We did so well in the first half and then when you get a sin-bin right at the end of the first half, leading into the second half it all started from there,” he said. “Then penalties in the second half really killed us.
“The enthusiasm was there and the game plan was there, it was just bad execution.”
In Auckland, fly-half Francois Steyn kicked 16 points, contributed to a controversial second-half try, and spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin while ensuring the Sharks won for the third time in four matches on their tour to Australia and New Zealand, and maintained their season-long reign atop the tournament ladder.
The Sharks return to South Africa for four matches in which they can cement first place while the Blues, anchored in 10th place before this match, are left to contemplate a season, which again has fallen short of the promise of their star-studded roster.
The Sharks extended to 10 matches their winning streak over the Blues but, most importantly, return to South Africa with a 3-1 record on tour which ensured they retained first place through the hardest part of their season.
“To be honest we wanted to win four out of four,” captain Bismarck du Plessis said. “But three out of four on a hard trip, we’re very happy with that.
“What we wanted to do was really put them under pressure at scrum time and line-outs, and we got that in the first half. Second half we were a bit under the pump.”