Super Rugby: South Africa’s Blue Bulls still in play with thrashing

The Blue Bulls kept their play-off hopes alive on Saturday in Super Rugby as they decimated the Japan Sunwolves 50-3 in Pretoria.

Jesse Kriel of Blue Bulls is tackled during his team's Super Rugby win over Japan Sunwolves on Saturday. Stringer / AFP / July 9, 2016
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Blue Bulls 50, Japan Sunwolves 3

Where they stand

Africa 1 Conference: 1 Western Stormers 8w, 1d, 4l, 41pts; 2 Blue Bulls 8w, 1d, 5l, 37pts; 4 Sunwolves 1w, 1d, 12l, 9 pts

Overall: 10 Blue Bulls 37pts; 18 Sunwolves 9pts

Africa 1 Conference implications: Round 17 (final round) – 1 Stormers v Southern Kings (2w, 0d, 12l, 9pts) in Cape Town; 2 Bulls at 3 Central Cheetahs (4w, 0d, 10l, 21pts) in Bloemfontein

Blue Bulls of South Africa kept alive a slim chance of making the Super Rugby play-offs with a 50-3 bonus-point victory over Japan Sunwolves in Pretoria on Saturday.

Success lifted the Pretoria franchise to 37 points in the overall Africa Group standings, two more than Coastal Sharks, who host Central Cheetahs later Saturday in a South African derby.

Bulls visit Cheetahs in the final league round next weekend while Sharks host Sunwolves and whichever team finishes with the most points advances to an away quarter-finals fixture.

Golden Lions and Western Stormers have won the Africa 1 and 2 conferences and will enjoy home advantage in the first knockout stage.

Bulls scored seven tries in an improved performance after meekly surrendering 29-11 to the Argentina Jaguares in Buenos Aires last weekend.

However, after building a 36-3 lead four minutes into the second half at Loftus Versfeld stadium, they had to withstand considerable pressure before winger Travis Ismaiel scored two late tries.

Sunwolves, who conceded 92 points to Cheetahs three months ago in their last match in South Africa, deserved to score at least one try, but poor options and a lack of composure let them down.

Missed tackles have been a season-long problem for the Tokyo-based Super Rugby debutants, who have lost 12 of 14 matches.

The first two Bulls tries stemmed from a succession of missed tackles on huge winger Jamba Ulengo and much smaller scrum-half Piet van Zyl.

“Sunwolves’ defending during the first half was atrocious,” said TV analyst and former Springboks coach Nick Mallett. “They are not up to competing in Super Rugby at the moment.”

The Japanese outfit, bolstered for the Bulls game by one starter each from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, will have a new coach next season.

New Zealander Mark Hammett, a late choice to lead the Sunwolves into Super Rugby, is returning home to work as assistant coach of 2015 Super Rugby champions Otago Highlanders.

An Ulengo off-load sent flanker Pieter Labuschagne over on 12 minutes for a try which fly-half Francois Brummer converted before Sunwolves fly-half Yu Tamura slotted a penalty.

The rest of the opening half was a procession toward the Sunwolves’ try-line with centre Dries Swanepoel, flanker Jannes Kirsten and Brummer scoring.

Brummer converted all the tries and kicked a penalty for a 31-3 half-time lead that stretched when Bulls skipper and hooker Adriaan Strauss scored.

After plenty of Sunwolves pressure failed to deliver any points, Ismaiel bagged two tries that substitute fly-half Tian Schoeman converted for a flattering winning margin.

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