Replacement Blade Thomson scored a brilliant 62nd-minute try that gave the Wellington Hurricanes a four-try bonus point and clinched their 29-23 win over the Canterbury Crusaders yesterday, keeping them atop the Super Rugby table.
Thomson, who scored two tries in the corresponding match last season, came off the bench to touch down at the end of a flowing counterattack, lifting the Hurricanes to their ninth win in 10 matches this season.
The seven-time champion Crusaders, who are now 5-6 for the season, started the match in ninth place and took a consolation bonus point in defeat, but slipped further away from playoff contention.
World-record point scorer Dan Carter, who started again at inside center for the Crusaders — conceding the No. 10 jersey to Colin Slade — scored the opening try of the match in only the second minute from an outstanding break and pass from Slade.
Beauden Barrett, the All Blacks’ No. 1 flyhalf in the absence of the injured Aaron Cruden, scored a superb try of his own to tie the scores after eight minutes.
Slade then made a brilliant solo run to score a try, which again brought the Crusaders into the match after the Hurricanes had led with a try to backrower Brad Shields. The teams went to halftime locked at 17-17.
The Crusaders edged ahead in the second half with penalties by Slade, before the Hurricanes clinched the match with tries to prop Reg Goodes and Thomson.
Blues flanker Akira Ioane illustrated his reputation as one of the game’s emerging stars by scoring a brilliant solo try in the Blues’ 41-24 win against Western Force.
The 19-year-old, whose father played for Samoa at the 1991 World Cup, mother was a New Zealand women’s rugby representative and whose younger brother plays on the All Blacks sevens team, is hailed as one of rugby’s young stars.
He showed why in the 48th minute, when he received the ball within his own half, fended off two tacklers and dashed 55m through vain defense to score the Blues’ fourth, bonus-point try.
Winger Melani Nanai scored a double, and Steven Luatua and Ihaia West also scored tries as the Blues posted only their second win of the season.
The Blues win moved them out of a lowly 14th place on the championships table, but came too late in the season to revive playoff ambitions.
The Perth-based Force scored four second-half tries against the tiring Blues’ defense to take a consolation bonus point, but are stuck in last place after a 10th loss in 11 matches.
“Tonight we wanted to be physical and make sure we could be really direct with them and we executed that really well,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Melbourne Rebels yesterday held off a second-half fightback to beat the Waikato Chiefs 16-15 and record their first-ever victory over the twice Super Rugby champions.
Scott Higginbotham and scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker scored tries to give the Rebels a 16-3 lead at the break and they held on despite center Charlie Ngatai and loose forward Michael Leitch crossing in the second half for the Chiefs.
The visitors were left ruing two yellow cards, the first to winger James Lowe in the first half causing a try to be called back and the second denying them captain Liam Messam for the last six minutes of the match.
“We never give in, but it’s a very disappointing result, we wanted to win,” Messam said in an interview at Melbourne’s Rectangular Stadium. “They were outstanding tonight and our discipline let us down.”
The Chiefs might not have needed to chase the match had replacement flyhalf Damian McKenzie managed to add the extras after Leitch’s 68th minute try, but his conversion attempt came back off the upright.
The Chiefs needed a win to keep pace at the top of the Super Rugby standings with the Wellington Hurricanes, who beat the Canterbury Crusaders earlier yesterday and now have a five-point lead at the top of the New Zealand conference.
With a fifth win of the season, Melbourne equaled their previous best tally in a season and they remain in the hunt for a maiden appearance in the playoffs.
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