Super Rugby week 12 recap: Kings pull off huge win over Sharks while Crusaders maintain winning streak

With most sides now facing five matches left this season, the race to reach the Super Rugby playoffs is really hotting up.

Whether it is fighting for top position in the conference, or trying to claim one of the four wildcard spots, almost every team still has something to play for over the final third of the season.

Australia's woes mean that four of the five teams still have realistic ambitions of claiming a playoff berth, while the fight for the overall number one seed will go down to the wire. 

Kings extend winning streak to three after downing Sharks

In one of the most entertaining South African derbies of recent times, the Southern Kings defeated the Sharks 35-32 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.

Coming off the back of two straight wins, the Kings looked full of confidence, and started the ball rolling after just four minutes when Alshaun Bock gathered in Lionel Cronje's cross-kick to touch down in the corner. 

The Sharks then hit back, with Patrick Lambie nailing two easy penalty goals before Daniel du Preez stretched over for their first try and their first lead of the match.

It was then the home side's time to forge back ahead, and either side of half-time they scored a pair of stunning tries. The first was finished off by Cronje in the dying embers of the opening half, before Bock raced clear for his second in the opening passage of the second half following a fine break from Louis Schreuder.

Lionel Cronje breaks away to score (image source: Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Sharks head coach Robert du Preez had seen enough, and made sweeping changes to his lineup following Bock's stunning score. The substitutions had the desired effect, with the Sharks retaking the lead on the hour mark after Lukhanyo Am assisted a try for winger Lwazi Mvovo

The away side were unable to hold on to their lead once more however, and despite two penalties from Garth April which put them four points ahead with five minutes remaining it was the Kings who claimed victory. After a couple of cracks at the line from close range, the Kings did what comes naturally to them and flung the ball wide, where Pieter-Steyn de Wet found himself with enough room to score the game winner in the corner to end an enthralling encounter. 

On Friday, the Lions weren't at their best, yet they didn't need to be, with a length of the field try by Kwagga Smith helping them claim a 13-6 victory over the Brumbies in Canberra

Crusaders now ten from ten, while Highlanders and Blues maintain playoff push

In what was forecast as a titanic week 12 clash, the Crusaders extended their winning run to ten matches following a 20-12 triumph over the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium.

The game didn't quite live up to the pre-match billing, but the Crusaders won't be complaining one bit after they managed to nullify the Hurricanes potent attack.

Despite playing without Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read due to suspension and injury, the home side's pack dominated at scrum-time which enabled them to play the game in the right area's. 

There were no tries before the break, with Richie Mo'unga's three penalties for the posts answered to by Jordie Barrett who kept the Hurricanes level despite a number of handling errors in tough conditions. 

The game's turning point came in the 50th minute, with the only try of the game coming thanks to the Crusaders pack. After turning down an easy three points, Mo'unga kicked for the corner, and from the resulting lineout, a driving maul ended with Matt Todd touching down for a five-pointer in his 100th Super Rugby appearance. 

The Crusaders defence thwarted the Hurricanes attack to maintain their winning start (image source: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

Todd was later forced to leave the field following a head knock, but the Hurricanes failed to take advantage, and when Mo'unga knocked over his fifth penalty of the evening it meant the visitors left with nothing after finishing outside the losing bonus point.

The night before, the Blues came closer to putting a full 80 minute performance together and downed the Cheetahs 50-32 in Auckland

All of the main protagonists stepped up for the Blues, with Rieko Ioane backing up his try double last week with another two tries against an admittedly porous Cheetah defence. 

Patrick Tuipulotu made an impressive return to the side, and he was one of four Blues forwards to cross the line, with Akira Ioane, Scott Scrafton and Steven Luatua also grabbing five pointers. Melani Nanai and Augustine Pulu completed the scoring for Tana Umaga's side, with the Cheetahs hooking duo of Torsten van Jaarsveld and Elandre Huggett responding for the tourists after Francois Venter had given them an early lead. 

In appalling conditions at Loftus Versfeld, the Highlanders survived a red card to Waisake Naholo in their 17-10 win over the Bulls

The game was all about field position due to the rain which saw both side's utilising their kicking games, and after falling behind to an early Tian Schoeman penalty, the Highlanders grabbed the game's first try with Matt Faddes running perfectly onto a chip from Richard Buckman to dot down under the sticks. 

Faddes then went from hero to zero in the opening stages of the second half, with his mistake leading to Warrick Gelant diving on a loose ball in-goal to level the scores at ten-apiece as the Bulls claimed the momentum. 

Naholo was sent from the field following an intervention from the TMO who ruled that he had used excessive force with his shoulder to an opponent's head, and minutes later, the Bulls believed they had crossed for a potential game-winning try. 

Pierre Schoeman had bustled over the try-line, but after watching a string of replays, the officials decided that RG Snyman had used his shoulder dangerously while clearing out the previous ruck and he was also given his marching orders as the try was ruled out. 

Malakai Fekitoa breaks for the late game-winner (image source: Gallo Images via Getty Images)
Malakai Fekitoa breaks for the late game-winner (image source: Gallo Images via Getty Images)

After the Highlanders had cleared their lines, they managed to recycle the ball to Malakai Fekitoa who produced a moment of brilliance to break through two would-be tacklers on his way to the try-line for the game-winning try.

Reds and Force keep playoff hopes alive with road wins

In a crucial Australian derby, two tries from Samu Kerevi helped the Reds claim a bonus point 29-24 victory over the Rebels in Melbourne.

Despite losing Karmichael Hunt to a yellow card midway through the opening half, the Reds looked far superior to their opponents before the break, and tries from Kerevi, Eto Nabuli and Stephen Moore gave them a deserved 17-9 lead. 

The Rebels brought Sean McMahon off the bench at half-time, and his impact with ball in hand was clear to see, yet he could do nothing about the Reds fourth try, with former Rebel player Scott Higginbotham dotting down to stretch the lead to 12. 

All of a sudden the Rebels attack kicked into life, and a pair of well-time offloads set up Will Miller to score their first try, before Marika Koroibete crashed over in the corner to suddenly bring the game level with ten minutes to play. 

Samu Kerevi was at his barnstorming best for the Reds (image source: Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

It was the Reds who pushed on though, and after a line-break from Duncan Paia'aua, the ball was pushed to the right where a gleeful Kerevi smashed through two defenders for the game's winning try despite the best efforts of Reece Hodge

The Force remain in contention for their first ever playoff berth, after a pair of late tries helped them to an impressive 16-6 win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires

A pair of penalty goals from Ian Prior and Juan Martin Hernandez saw the tetchy encounter level at 6-6 just after the hour mark, and against all odds it was the Force bench which had the bigger impact, with Alex Newsome and Isi Naisarani stunning the Argentinian crowd.