Hurricanes blow away Sharks, Lions end Crusaders’ Super Rugby title bid
Three Kiwi teams into Super 18 semi-finals
New Zealand’s Hurricanes are one game from hosting this year’s Super Rugby final, with defending champions Highlanders away to South Africa’s Golden Lions in next week’s semi-finals.
The Wellington-based Hurricanes, bidding for their first Super Rugby crown after losing to the Highlanders in last season’s decider, have home advantage against fellow Kiwis Chiefs next weekend.
The Johannesburg-based Lions, the second-seeded team, will host the Highlanders in Saturday’s other semi-final.
The Hurricanes, the top seeds after finishing on top of the final standings, blasted away South Africa’s Coastal Sharks in a record 41-0 victory to cruise into the last four.
Across in South Africa, the Lions scored two late tries to see off New Zealand’s seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders 42-25.
The Lions will host this season’s final if they beat the Highlanders and if the Hurricanes go down to the Chiefs.
The Chiefs, who won back-to-back titles in 2012-13, routed South African outfit Western Stormers 60-21 in Cape Town to book their last four spot.
The Highlanders extinguished the last Australian challenge with a 15-9 win over two-time champions ACT Brumbies in Canberra.
In Wellington, the Sharks became the first side in Southern Hemisphere championship history to be kept scoreless in a play-off match by the rampant Hurricanes.
It was a record Sharks captain Tendai Mtawarira did not want to be part of, describing the South Africans performance as an “embarrassing effort” against the top-ranked New Zealanders.
With howling wind and rain playing havoc with ball control, the Hurricanes still managed to score six tries to none as they raced away in the second half after leading 13-0 at half-time.
But they may be without their captain Dane Coles for the next match after he was taken to hospital with what appeared to be a serious rib injury.
The Lions, relegated in 2013, reached the Super Rugby semi-finals for the first time following their win over the Crusaders.
The hosts put on 12 points within eight minutes and a late first-half try from hooker Malcolm Marx earned them a 22-10 half-time advantage.
The Crusaders fought back to trail by eight points before the South Africans finished strongly with winger Ruan Combrinck and substitute scrum-half Ross Cronje scoring tries.
The Chiefs vanquished the Stormers in a performance that home skipper Schalk Burger bemoaned as a horror movie.
Trailing by four points after prop Vincent Koch barged over for an early try, the Chiefs responded with two tries within four minutes on the way to a 34-14 half-time lead.
Any hopes of a comeback by the hosts were dashed just six minutes into the second half when full-back and official man-of-the-match Damian McKenzie scored a fifth try for the Kiwis.
In chilly Canberra, the Highlanders survived a tense finish to eliminate the Brumbies.
The New Zealanders defended grimly in the final stages as the Australian conference champions went after a converted try that would have given them victory.
Highlanders scored two tries to nil with fly-half Lima Sopoaga landing a conversion and a penalty to steer his team into next week’s semi-finals.
The Highlanders, who have played in South Africa, Argentina and Australia in recent weeks to keep their title bid alive, were the better side for the most part to win their first game in Canberra for 10 years.