The Canterbury Crusaders beat the Queensland Reds and the Waikato Chiefs upset the Auckland Blues on Saturday as the third round of rugby's Super 12 came up with the expected -- and unexpected.
The usual suspects, repeat champions the ACT Brumbies and Auckland Blues, were expected to gravitate to the top of the table after their third-round games, to hold a margin over four-time champions the Crusaders.
The Brumbies made their move Friday, beating South Africa's Stormers 22-19 and the Crusaders stirred into ominous life Saturday with a 59-24 win over the Reds; their second 50-point result in straight games.
But the Waikato Chiefs upset predictions when they scored two first-half tries and defended ferociously to beat the Blues 18-9 at Hamilton. Instead, it was the Wellington Hurricanes, with their third win on the road, who joined the Brumbies in first place.
Novice flyhalf Jimmy Gopperth scored 24 points from a try, two conversions and five penalties as the Hurricanes, who led 29-9, staved off a late comeback to beat the Sharks 29-23 in Durban.
The win left them unbeaten after three rounds, tied with the Brumbies on 13 points, and in an enviable position as they return to face a series of six home games.
"This week was the hardest of the time we've had away from home on this trip and everybody's body language was sort of saying `can't wait to get home,'" said Hurricanes halfback Isaac Boss.
Canterbury's win over Queensland, by eight tries to four, signaled its recovery from a narrow first-round loss to the Brumbies.
Winger Rico Gear touched down twice and All Blacks flyhalf Daniel Carter scored a try and kicked four conversions and three penalties for 22 points.
Center Junior Pelesasa scored the first and last of the Reds' four tries to earn the struggling Australian franchise a bonus point, a small consolation for its third straight loss.
"We got some good ball, turned over some ball in the first half and took all the chances we had," said Crusaders captain Richie McCaw.
The Blues saw their unbeaten record wither in the face of Waikato's defensive intensity.
Wingers Loki Crichton and Sosene Anesi scored tries in a three-minute spell midway through the first half to lift the Chiefs to a 15-3 halftime lead. The Chiefs then threw every ounce of effort into their defense in the second half to hold on for the major upset of the season's first three rounds.
"We defended like last week never happened," said flyhalf David Hill, who kicked a conversion and two penalties for the Chiefs.
"We knew we've let ourselves down and we relied on our defense tonight to reflect where we're really at."
Friday was a dark day for South African teams. The Brumbies' win over the Stormers, the Hurricanes' over the Sharks and the Otago Highlanders' 23-0 trouncing of the Bulls crowded South Africa's franchises into the lower half of the table.
* Waikato 18 (Loki Crichton, Sosene Anesi tries; David Hill conversion, 2 penalties) def. Auckland 9 (Luke McAlister 3 penalties)
* Canterbury Crusaders 59 (Rico Gear 2, Casey Laulala, Aaron Mauger, Daniel Carter, Richie McCaw, Scott Hamilton, Andrew Mehrtens tries; Daniel Carter 4 conversions, 3 penalties; Andrew Mehrtens conversion) def. Queensland Reds 24 (Junior Pelesasa 2, Greg Holmes, Chris Latham tries; Julian Huxley 2 conversions). HT: 35-5
* Otago Highlanders 23 (Nick Evans, Matt Saunders, Filipo Levi tries; Ben Blair conversion, 2 penalties), Bulls 0
* ACT Brumbies 22 (Henari Veratau, Radike Samo, Ben Batger tries; Stephen Larkham 2 conversions; George Gregan drop goal), Stormers 19 (Jean De Villiers 2, Eddie Andrews tries; Gaffie du Toit 2 conversions)
* Wellington Hurricanes 29 (Ben Herring, Jimmy Gopperth tries; Gopperth 2 conversions, 5 penalties), Sharks 23 (Henno Mentz, Adrian Jacobs tries; Butch James 2 conversions, 2 penalties, Herkie Kruger drop goal)
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