Flyhalf Aaron Cruden scored a try among 19 points as the Waikato Chiefs beat the Lions 34-21 yesterday for their ninth straight win in rugby’s Super 15 to stay atop the table after 11 rounds.
South Africa’s Bulls had moved to the top of the standings after Friday’s 41-35, bonus-point win over the Melbourne Rebels, but the Chiefs reclaimed first place, also taking a bonus point from a four tries to three win over the Johannesburg-based Lions.
Cruden scored the opening try, had a hand in two others and kicked six goals from as many attempts to help extend the Chiefs’ winning streak, which stretches back to the first weekend of the season.
Captain Craig Clarke, winger Lelia Masaga and scrumhalf Brendon Leonard also scored tries for the Chiefs, who played their first home match in 12 years at Pukekohe Stadium on the northern border of their region.
“It’s really awesome to come up to Pukekohe and see a crowd like this,” Clarke said. “This place is as much part of Chiefs country as Hamilton is, so it’s bloody good.”
The Chiefs’ next match is against the defending champion Queensland Reds, who face the seven-time champion Canterbury Crusaders today.
Replacement backrower Cobus Grobbelaar scored two tries for the Lions, who are 13 places below the Chiefs in the championship standings, but who fought their way back into the match after falling behind 20-0 after 28 minutes.
Rugged captain Joshua Strauss also scored a try for the 14th-place Lions, who found ways to puncture one of the best defenses in the competition, scoring each of their tries from skilfully mounted forward drives.
“I thought when we did stick to our game plan and how we wanted to play, it did work for us,” Grobbelaar said. “Unfortunately, we gave them a lot of ball and a side like this will punish you.”
The Lions’ next match is against the Auckland Blues, the only team below them on the championship table.
Cruden played a steadying hand for the Chiefs yesterday as the Chiefs used the match to start some young players. He kicked penalties for an early 6-0 lead then scored the opening try in the 19th minute at the end of a sweeping Chiefs attack. Most of the Chiefs tries stemmed from Lions handling errors and turnovers and that was the case with Cruden’s opener.
Clarke scored in the 28th minute to give the Chiefs their commanding 20-point lead, but Grobbelaar led a Lions’ rally with his first try six minutes before halftime, peeling from a rolling maul to dive through the goal-line defense.
The Chiefs picked up the pace again with a try after halftime to Masaga. Cruden recovered his own kick into Lions’ territory and passed to Masaga, who outpaced the last of the defense.
Strauss was rewarded for his immense work rate with a try in the 53rd minute, but the Chiefs hit back immediately with a try to Leonard, who retrieved his own speculative kick behind the defensive line.
Grobellaar finished the scoring with a try and flyhalf Elton Jantjies added his third conversion from as many attempts.
? Brumbies vs Waratahs
The ACT Brumbies extended their lead in the Super Rugby Australian conference by grinding out a 23-6 victory over the New South Wales Waratahs in Canberra yesterday.
Brumbies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano slotted 13 points from three penalties and conversions of tries by winger George Speight and center Andrew Smith either side of halftime.