Second-half tries to David Havili and Ben Funnell ensured that the Canterbury Crusaders remained unbeaten with a 31-24 victory over the Waikato Chiefs in Suva yesterday.
Flanker Heiden Bedwell-Curtis also scored for the Crusaders, who have won all 12 of their games so far this season and opened up a handy 11-point lead over the Chiefs in the highly competitive New Zealand Conference.
The Chiefs scored four brilliant tries to Tim Nanai-Williams, James Lowe, Kane Hames and Aaron Cruden, but they only converted two of them to give the Crusaders the breathing room they needed.
The Crusaders, who produced several comeback victories earlier in the season, kept the Chiefs pointless for much of the second half with the Hamilton-based side holding a 17-13 lead after a highly intense first half.
The victory was the second in successive weeks for the seven-time champions against tough New Zealand sides and sent a strong message to the rest of the competition that they would be tough to beat during the business end of the season.
The Test-match intensity was evident again at the National Stadium in Suva, with the Chiefs dominating the early phases of the game with a high-octane attack, but Crusaders’ flyhalf Richie Mo’unga gave his side an early 6-0 lead with two penalties.
The Chiefs then struck back with two brilliant tries to Nanai-Williams and Lowe, neither of which were converted, before Bedwell-Curtis stormed over following a brilliant break by Crusaders center Jack Goodhue.
Mo’unga added his first conversion before Chiefs’ prop Hames barreled over to give his side their halftime lead.
The Crusaders quickly overturned the deficit, with Havili finishing off a sweeping counterattack before Funnell crossed with just over 20 minutes remaining to give his side a 25-17 lead.
Mo’unga extended the lead with his third penalty before Cruden then crossed following a solid attacking scrum with less than 10 minutes remaining to give his side the opportunity to steal a late victory.
The Crusaders flyhalf added a fourth penalty before the Chiefs wasted two attacking lineout opportunities with poor throws to end their hopes.
In Australia, the Melbourne Rebels said they would not engage in any discussions with the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) on any potential sale or cancelation of their Super Rugby license, the club’s owners said.
The Rebels, whose license is held by a private company, Imperium Sports Management and run through the Melbourne Rebels Rugby Union, have been identified by the ARU as being under review after governing body SANZAAR said it would reduce Super Rugby by three teams next season.
Two teams from South Africa and one from Australia, which the ARU have already said would be either the Rebels or Perth-based Western Force, would be axed from the competition against a backdrop of falling revenues and fan interest after the expansion to 18 teams last year.
The Force have already launched legal action against the ARU.
The Rebels, who issued a statement last month that they would be seeking compensation from the ARU, yesterday said they would now not even engage with the governing body on their license.
“The Melbourne Rebels wish to reiterate its clear legal position that the ARU has no legal right to cut them as a team in the Super Rugby Competition,” the club said in a statement. “For the avoidance of any doubt whatsoever, neither the Melbourne Rebels nor its owners will engage with the ARU in relation to the sale or cancelation of its Super Rugby licence.”
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