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Sharks seal finals berth

The Sharks booked their place in the Super 15 finals and ended the title defence of the Bulls with a narrow 26-23 victory in Pretoria.

The Bulls had revived their title defence after going unbeaten in their past six games, but they were never able to grab the lead despite a tightly-fought contest.

Twice the Sharks opened up 10-point leads, following tries from Stefan Terblanche and Lwazi Mvovo, and while the Bulls went over through Francois Hougaard it came too late to snatch victory.

The Stormers claimed second place in the standings and home advantage in the semi-finals with a 44-34 victory over the Cheetahs in a thrilling match in Bloemfontein. Both teams scored four tries each, but it was the boot of Peter Grant which proved the difference with the fly-half kicking 24 points.

Another Quade Cooper masterclass propelled the Reds to a 19-11 victory over the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton and also to top position in the table at the end of the regular season.

Cooper, who landed a conversion from Liam Gill's fifth-minute try and four penalty goals to take his season tally to 211 points, dominated the Reds' attack with some controlled passing and deft kicking which offered too much class for the Chiefs to compete as he gained his side a week off before their home semi-final in a fortnight.

The Waratahs qualified for the play-offs with a thumping 41-7 bonus-point victory over the Brumbies at ANZ Stadium. Kurtley Beale, who kicked two penalties and five conversions from eight attempts, continued his rich vein of form with another dominant display, while giant lock Sitaleki Timani left a trail of destruction to claim man-of-the-match honours.

However, the win was soured by injuries to hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, Daniel Halangahu and Al Baxter who were all forced from the field in the second half.

The Crusaders sealed top spot in the New Zealand conference after securing a hard-fought 16-9 victory over the Hurricanes. The win in their 'home' fixture at Westpac Stadium ensured them at least a home play-off next week in Nelson, although if the Stormers come unstuck against the Cheetahs they could yet end up with a week off.

Robbie Fruean's try early in the second half broke the game open and once Dan Carter had added the conversion to his two earlier penalties they never really looked like being overtaken.

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