Big Ben strikes for Brumbies

Ben Alexander was the unlikely hero as the CA Brumbies ensured that the Natal Sharks' awful start to the Super 14 season continues.

Ben Alexander was the unlikely hero as the CA Brumbies ensured that the Natal Sharks' awful start to the Super 14 season continued yesterday. The 6ft 2ins, 18½stone loosehead prop scored two tries as the Brumbies won 24-22 to leave the Sharks, who were one of the pre-season favourites to finish in the top four, as one of only three teams yet to register a win after their fifth consecutive loss.

Four of the defeats have come by five points or less, meaning the Sharks have collected four bonus points, but have been incapable of turning close games into wins. "That's hard to lose like this," said John Smit, the Sharks captain. "We've had five games now and lost four like this. "We did enough to win the game but gave away too many easy penalties in their 22 when we had them on the rack and let them get out of the danger zone."

Matt Giteau, the Australia fly-half, kicked 14 points for the Brumbies, who have won four of their five games, including the match-winning penalty. Andy Goode, the former England fly-half, was successful with five penalties for the Sharks and also converted Ruan Pienaar's try. "I don't think it was a very good game, we will take the win but we need to start improving and playing some good footy," Stephen Hoiles,the Brumbies captain, said. "We have got a fair bit of improvement in us."

Two tries from Francois Hougaard and Pierre Spies, the Springbok back-row forward, helped the Bulls maintain their stronghold at the top of the table with a 50-35 victory over the Highlanders in Pretoria. The defending champions did not have everything their own way, though, as the visitors fought back after looking like they were in for a mauling after the opening quarter. Israel Dagg scored a hat-trick for the New Zealand outfit to give his side the consolation of a bonus point, but the hosts' seven-five try-count enabled them to make it 10 wins in a row in the competition.

Western Force will try to pick up their first point of the season today when they visit the Queensland Reds. The Reds ended the Waikato Chiefs' unbeaten record last weekend, but their coach, Ewen McKenzie said his team's preparations for today's match have been disrupted by media speculation that has linked their forwards Laurie Weeks and Adam Byrnes and back Richard Kingi with a move to the Melbourne Rebels, who will play their first season in the tournament next year.

"There's no question we've got players who are being courted heavily which is not helping us in terms of preparation," he said. "We have to respond and the back room battles with recruiting are taking up a lot of time to be honest which is frustrating when you just want to focus on the opposition. "We're just trying to concentrate on the game against the Force." Reds v Western Force, 10.30am, Showsports 2