Bulls remain unbeaten and still top the table

South Africa’s Bulls extended their unbeaten run through the sixth round of rugby’s Super 14 but paid a price, losing flanker Deon Stegmann to a three-match suspension after a 19-14 win over the Hurricanes.

Stegmann received two of the six yellow cards handed out by Australian referee Matt Goddard in Friday’s match in Wellington, the second of which became an automatic red card and left the Bulls with 14 men for the game’s last 30 minutes.

At a judicial hearing Saturday, Stegmann was banned for three games for a dangerous tackle which hospitalized Hurricanes and All Blacks centre Conrad Smith.

Smith was treated for a suspected fractured cheekbone but was later cleared of that injury and of a concussion.

All Blacks lock Jason Eaton and was sin-binned for trampling Bulls and Springboks lock Bakkies Botha and faced a judicial hearing, but received no further penalty.

Goddard’s refereeing performance became the central feature of a match between the tournament’s first and fifth-placed teams. He had handed out three yellow cards by halftime for minor offenses at the breakdown and criticized players for their refusal to play by his rules.

Both captains expressed frustration at Goddard’s rulings while All Blacks’ center Ma’a Nonu, who was one of three Hurricanes to spend time in the sin-bin, said the referee cost his team the game.

“Goddard must have had hot hands or a hot pocket. I must admit he didn’t do justice to both teams,” Nonu said.

“People want to come and watch a good game and he gave out those yellow cards.”

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said his team had shown, by winning in New Zealand for only the fifth time, that it was ready to emulate the franchise’s 2007 team, which was the first South African team to win the Super 14.

“Last year was a down year. We had a lot of new players and had to regroup,” he said.

“They (the 2007 team) had members who won the World Cup, they won the Super 14, they won four Currie Cups. We had to get new goals and things are back on track.”

The Durban-based Sharks remained the closest pursuers of the Bulls after a 22-10 win over the Western Force on Saturday, although they have played one match more than their compatriots.

The Sharks have now won five of six matches this season, including three of four on the road.

“It shows the character of this side, our performance after four weeks on the road,” said Sharks captain Johan Muller.

“It was great to see the strength we had on defense. Everyone was out playing tonight, it was a great effort.”

The gap between the table-topping South African teams and their closest rivals widened when the third-placed Waratahs slipped to their second straight loss, 17-13 to the Crusaders.

The Crusaders were desperate to win to keep alive their defence of the Super 14 title which they won last year for the seventh time. That desperation showed in their defense during the second half, when several try-saving tackles stalled a Waratahs comeback.

“We were creating enough pressure, but we’d go one or two phases and lose the ball,” Waratahs captain Phil Waugh said.

“We’re making inroads, but not scoring points. Individually we need to have a good hard look at ourselves. It’s the simple things which are letting us down.”

The Chiefs moved past the Blues and into fourth place on the table when they beat them 63-32 in a remarkable match at Hamilton in which 14 tries were scored.

All Black winger Sitiveni Sivivatu scored four of those tries, a franchise record for a single match, and overtook winger Roger Randle as the all-time leading tryscorer for the Chiefs with 34 tries.

“That was a great performance,” Waikato coach Ian Foster said.

“Things clicked. We executed really well and there was a nice confidence in our game.”

New Zealand’s five franchises occupy the fourth to eight plac

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