The Canterbury Crusaders yesterday came from behind in an emphatic second half to beat the Otago Highlanders, as the Stormers snapped a three-game losing streak to upset the Rebels.
The defending champions romped to a 43-17 win and have now gone 24 consecutive matches, dating back to 2016, without a defeat at their Christchurch fortress.
In Melbourne, the Stormers cruised to a 41-24 victory, ending their four-game Australasian swing on a high, despite missing rested captain Siya Kolisi and fellow Springboks Eben Etzebeth (concussion) and Pieter-Steph du Toit (paternity leave).
The Highlanders were in front at halftime, but the second half was one-way traffic in the New Zealand derby, with a David Havili try one minute after the restart igniting a five-try blitz.
“Playing at home is very special and a battle against the neighbors is always a tough one,” Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said. “They came out and put us under pressure. They were beating us around the corner, beating us to the breakdown and it took us a while to adjust to that.”
The Highlanders arrived desperate to break a four-game losing run and honor skipper Ben Smith, who was playing his 150th Super Rugby match.
It was Smith who set the game alight when he stepped through a wall of defenders to give the Highlanders an early lead.
The Crusaders dominated possession and territory, but let themselves down with handling errors and missed tackles. When they eliminated the mistakes, the points came.
The Crusaders have a bye next week, but have a big enough lead to stay top of the table.
STORMERS 41, REBELS 24
An out-of-sorts Rebels, missing injured winger Jack Maddocks, who has scored more tries than anyone else this season, were still in the hunt 10-3 down at halftime, but a second-half Stormers blitz shattered their hopes.
“The team was really fired up and they put their bodies on the line tonight,” said Stormers captain Steven Kitshoff, whose team incredibly made 139 tackles to 40.
The South Africans got a perfect start when Dillyn Leyds showed exceptional pace to dodge past Billy Meakes and Will Genia and dot down after just four minutes.
However, the game drifted with the Rebels’ attacking flair stymied by the Stormers’ defense.
Quade Cooper converted a penalty to finally get the home team on the scoreboard and they drew level within 60 seconds of the second stanza, when Reece Hodge intercepted a looping Jean-Luc du Plessis pass to race away for a try and Cooper booted the conversion.
However, Juarno Augustus’ first Super Rugby touchdown and a Du Plessis conversion quickly restored their lead, and they went on the rampage with tries from Damian de Allende and Ruhan Nel in the next nine minutes.
Genia and Campbell Magnay pulled tries back before Nel got his second just before the buzzer.
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