Hurricanes, Chiefs, Lions, Highlanders in Super Rugby semis
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The Chiefs and the Hurricanes underlined the strength of the New Zealand teams in Super Rugby as they won their quarterfinals by huge margins on Saturday — 60-21 and 41-0.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs and the Wellington-based Hurricanes were also two of three New Zealand teams to make the last four as they joined defending champion Highlanders in the semifinals.
The odd ones out are South Africa's Lions, who dumped out seven-time winners the Crusaders to prevent a New Zealand clean sweep of the semis.
The Hurricanes will host the two-time champion Chiefs in Wellington and the Lions will host the Highlanders in Johannesburg in the semifinal lineups.
The Chiefs were far too powerful despite having to travel across to play the Stormers in Cape Town, reaching 60 points, winning by a 39-point margin and scoring eight tries to three by the South African side.
The Stormers even scored first, one of two close-range tries to prop Vincent Koch, but the Chiefs replied with four of their own before halftime. The Chiefs were in complete control from about 20 minutes in, with fullback Damian MacKenzie contributing a try, two penalties and seven conversions for his 25 points.
"It was a great all-round team effort, I think," said MacKenzie. "We played some good footie in that first half."
Veteran Stormers loose forward Schalk Burger, in his last game for the team, said: "It was sort of a horror movie for us out there."
The Chiefs' dominance continued right to the end, with two of their tries coming in the last two minutes.
The Chiefs' powerful display wasn't the most convincing performance of the weekend, either, after the Hurricanes — last season's losing finalists — crushed the Sharks 41-0 in hurricane-force winds in Wellington in the day's first quarterfinal.
The Highlanders had become the first team to reach the semis when they beat Australia's ACT Brumbies 15-9 on Friday and the Hurricanes kept alive the prospect of a repeat of last year's final. The Hurricanes became the first team in Super Rugby history to hold an opponent scoreless in a playoffs match.
However, their win came at a cost, as they lost captain and All Blacks hooker Dane Coles just after halftime to what seemed a serious rib injury.
Undeterred by the weather conditions, the Hurricanes played the adventurous style of rugby they have pursued all season to qualify for the playoffs in first place. They ran the ball at every opportunity, varying the point at which they attacked the defensive line and always having players ready to run off teammates who broke tackles.
That led to tries in the first half to local favorite Loni Uhila — the prop known as the Tongan Bear — and fullback James Marshall.
The Hurricanes then put the match out of the Sharks' reach with two tries immediately after halftime, both featuring breaks by scumhalf T.J. Perenara. In the first, Perenara passed to winger Jason Woodward for the try, and in the second Perenara found Uhila. He then passed to lock Vaea Fifita, who ran 20 meters to score.
Perenara and Uhila combined again for the Hurricanes' fifth try in the 58th minute. From a tapped penalty, Uhila drove at the line and when the ball came free All Blacks scrumhalf Perenara found no opposition as he dived through a gap on the openside.
The Sharks' ordeal ended when flanker Brad Shields scored the Hurricanes' last try after the final hooter and Woodward added the conversion.
"We're not going to get many opportunities against the top teams in this competition and when we get those opportunities we've got to take them," Hurricanes' co-captain Perenara said.
The Lions are by far the biggest surprise of the playoffs, and continue their journey after beating the Crusaders, the competition's mist successful team of all-time, 42-25 in Johannesburg.
The Lions were for years the whipping boys of Super Rugby and were relegated in 2012, making their trip to the semis for the first time in 15 years one of the compelling stories of the season.
They made a flying start with wing Courtnall Skosan and center Rohan Janse van Rensburg crossing. The Lions led 15-0 after 15 minutes and were ahead throughout, scoring five tries to the Crusaders' three. The pick of the home team's tries saw a 60 meter breakout by center Lionel Mapoe and a behind-the-back pass to wing Ruan Combrinck to speed away.
"Look, the Crusaders got the better of us in the last three years of Super Rugby so we knew tonight was going to be a battle," the Lions' returning captain Warren Whiteley said. "So proud of the guys."