The Crusaders yesterday beat the Auckland Blues 26-21 to reclaim first place in Super Rugby ahead of the tournament’s four-week break for June Test matches.
Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga kicked 16 points — four penalties and two conversions from as many attempts.
The Chiefs returned to first place last week after falling behind the Crusaders, but surrendered their position when they were beaten 45-25 on Friday by Australia’s New South Wales Waratahs.
The Crusaders trailed the Blues 18-13 after 61 minutes, but regained the lead with a try to scrumhalf Andy Ellis and eased away with the conversion and two penalties to Mo’unga.
The Crusaders led with an early try to Fijian-born winger Nemani Nadolo, returning from a disciplinary suspension, but the Blues reclaimed the lead with a try and penalty to flyhalf Ihaia West.
Mo’unga kicked a penalty which put the Crusaders ahead 10-8 before a try to center George Moala sent the Crusaders to halftime with a five-point advantage.
West and Mo’unga exchanged penalties before Ellis’ try, from a break by center Kieron Fonatia, put the Crusaders ahead 20-18. Further penalties by Mo’unga made the lead 26-18, but center Piers Francis kicked a last-minute goal to earn the Blues a consolation bonus point.
“It wasn’t the performance we were after to end this part of the season,” Crusaders captain Kieran Read said. “But there was certainly a lot of guts and a bit of character.”
In a later match yesterday, the ACT Brumbies scored 10 tries to overwhelm Japan’s Sunwolves 66-5 and move into first place in the Australian conference.
The Brumbies and New South Wales are level with 34 points each, but ACT has eight wins in 12 matches, while the Waratahs are 7-5.
In Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the Southern Kings scored three late tries when the Jaguares were reduced to 12 men and won an error-strewn battle of strugglers on Friday.
The Argentine visitors had lock Tomas Lavanini and tighthead prop Ramiro Herrera red-carded during the first half for shoulder charges to the heads of South African opponents.
Having gallantly turned a 6-3 halftime lead into a 22-10 advantage, the Jaguares were dealt a further blow 10 minutes from time when flanker Tomas Lezana was yellow-carded for collapsing a maul.
The three cards added to a season-long tale of Jaguares’ indiscipline with No. 8 Leonardo Senatore banned for 10 weeks this month having been cited for biting an opponent.
After playing an intelligent compact game with 13 men for 32 minutes, the South Americans’ resistance finally collapsed when three men short.
New Zealand referee Nick Briant awarded the Kings a penalty try, then replacement fullback Dewald Human and winger Wandile Mjekevu scored.
It was the hollowest of wins for the Port Elizabeth outfit, who also picked up a first bonus point this season thanks to a 4-1 try count at a sparsely populated Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
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