Kurtley Beale stars NSW Waratahs streak into Super Rugby play-offs

New South Wales Waratahs slammed Queensland Reds 34-3 on Saturday to finish the season atop the Super Rugby standings. Canterbury Crusaders finished second and Coastal Sharks third ahead of the play-offs.

The New South Wales Waratahs finished atop the Super Rugby regular season standings with 58 points. Nic Bothma / EPA / April 5, 2014
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The New South Wales Waratahs head into the Super Rugby play-offs unbeaten in seven games after mastering the Queensland Reds 34-3 in their final round match in Brisbane on Saturday.

The Waratahs claimed a bonus point in their four tries to nil victory in their biggest win over the Reds in Super Rugby.

The Sydneysiders finished the regular season seven points clear at the top of the standings and will now have a week off before hosting a semi-final for the first time.

The momentum is building for the Waratahs as they chase their first Super Rugby title and coach Michael Cheika was able to rest key player Israel Folau from the Australian derby with the Reds.

In Folau’s absence his Wallaby teammate Kurtley Beale was outstanding scoring two tries and having a hand in another in an impressive game as playmaker.

The Waratahs other tryscorers were fullback Jono Lance and scrum-half Nick Phipps with fly-half Bernard Foley kicking four conversions and two penalties.

The Reds only points came from a penalty in the fourth minute from Mike Harris.

New Zealand referee Mike Fraser pulled out the yellow card twice – sending Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu to the sin bin for punching Beau Robinson, while Reds’ replacement Sam Johnson was shown yellow for a lifting tackle on Beale.

The Reds, who failed to reach the play-offs for the first time since their 2011 championship-winning season, lost three players through injury during the match – Ben Lucas, Ben Tapuai and Ben Daley.

It was Queensland’s biggest loss to NSW in 19 seasons of Super Rugby and their lowest score at Suncorp Stadium.

“It was good to put a few tries on and keep them try-less so we have a week off now but Queensland came out really tough tonight,” Waratahs skipper Michael Hooper said.

“It was a good test for us tonight, they have a good set-piece so we can really build off this game.”

Reds skipper James Horwill said everything was going the Waratahs’ way to win this season’s Super Rugby title.

“They have pretty much a full list of players to choose from and they don’t have to travel if they keep on winning so the ball is in their court and they have a lot of advantages,” Horwill said.

Meanwhile, long-time leaders Coastal Sharks had to settle for third place on the league standings despite a clinical 34-10 away win over Western Stormers.

The Durban outfit ran on to the pitch at a cold Newlands stadium in Cape Town needing a 35-point bonus-point victory to snatch second place from Canterbury Crusaders.

But the improbable target soon became impossible and two tries in the final four minutes gave Sharks a flattering scoreline.

Finishing third on the combined standings means Sharks miss out on a bye next weekend and a home semi-final.

Instead, they must host New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders next Saturday and, if successful, play record seven-time champions Crusaders away a week later in the semi-finals.

Australian outfit ACT Brumbies host another New Zealand side, Waikato Chiefs, in the other play-off with the winners set to meet the table-topping NSW Waratahs for a final place.

Waratahs completed the 16-match league phase with 58 points followed by Crusaders (51), Sharks (50), Brumbies (45), title-holders Chiefs (44) and Highlanders (42).

Apart from the Crusaders and two-time champions Chiefs, the Brumbies have won the southern hemisphere provincial title.

“We could have done with another few minutes,” quipped Sharks skipper and hooker Bismarck du Plessis, referring to the late try surge.

“I hope all South Africans will cheer us on against the Highlanders and we are not looking any further than the play-off.”

Stormers skipper and flank Schalk Burger hailed Sharks as a team capable of becoming the second South African side to lift the trophy after Blue Bulls.

“The way they won here had all the hallmarks of a champion side. They had three try-scoring opportunities and scored three tries.

“We kept them deep in their half for almost the entire second half, but could not put any points on the scoreboard.”

Stormers were the form team going into the South African derby with four wins in five matches while Sharks lost three of their previous five games.

The Cape Town team also had the psychological boost of a shock 21-19 triumph in Durban before the June Test rugby break.

After fly-half Francois Steyn kicked a fourth-minute penalty, Sharks suffered several blows as flank Willem Alberts was yellow-carded and they conceded a try one minute later.

Livewire Stormers flank Nizaam Carr was credited with a pushover try which angered Du Plessis, who believed referee Jaco Peyper should have used the television match official.

Big-screen replays of the score did not show Carr scoring as a group of Stormers surged over the try-line.

Fly-half Kurt Coleman converted only for Steyn to kick three more penalties and give the visitors a five-point advantage.

A Coleman penalty narrowed the gap before Sharks centre Paul Jordaan dotted down for an opportunist try that Steyn converted for a 19-10 half-time advantage.

Steyn potted his fifth penalty five minutes into the second half before the Stormers camped in Sharks’ territory without managing to score.

Right-wing S’bura Sithole put the outcome beyond doubt with a breakaway try on 76 minutes that Steyn converted.

And a minute into stoppage time, replacement back Stefan Ungerer dived over in the corner for an unconverted try to complete the scoring.

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