The Auckland Blues yesterday hammered the ACT Brumbies 38-10 to stay top of Super Rugby Trans Tasman, while the Canterbury Crusaders inflicted a 54-28 defeat on the NSW Waratahs, but the Waikato Chiefs became the first New Zealand side to lose, falling to the Queensland Reds 34-40.
With New Zealand clubs continuing to dominate the competition in the first three games of Round 3, the unbeaten Blues are level with the Wellington Hurricanes, who flattened the Western Force 43-6 on Friday, with the Crusaders one point further back.
However, the Chiefs’ chances of making the final seem over after they became the first to break the trend of New Zealand teams winning the previous 14 matches.
The Brumbies, who had seemed to be the one Australian side capable of securing a win and who denied the Crusaders a vital bonus point, were leading 10-7 in the countdown to halftime in Auckland when the Blues turned the game with 10 points in under two minutes.
A penalty by Otere Black leveled the scores and from the kick-off, Rieko Ioane made the initial break before feeding Finlay Christie who beat five would-be defenders on a 35m run to the line.
“That was a huge moment in the game. It was a real tight tussle and that win gave us momentum,” Blues captain Tom Robinson said, adding that he had always felt confident.
“I asked the boys to bring intensity and attitude and we brought it,” Robinson said.
With flanker Rob Valetini playing like a man possessed and Nic White keeping the ball ahead of his forwards, the Brumbies were not short of attacking opportunities in the opening stages.
However, they let themselves down with multiple scrum penalties on the Blues’ put-in, which allowed the home side to work their way downfield for Kurt Eklund to score from a lineout drive.
The Brumbies’ first points came from a Noah Lolesio penalty and they took the lead with a converted try to Connal McInerney before the Blues wrested back control.
The Blues added converted tries to Bryce Heem, A.J. Lam and T.J. Faiane in the second half.
A workmanlike Crusaders inflicted an 11th straight defeat on the Waratahs, exposing their defensive frailties to crush them 54-28.
New Zealand’s premier team started slowly, making uncharacteristic errors, before finding their groove at a windy Wollongong, running in eight tries to three.
The result left them with three wins from three in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, while the ’Tahs have yet to get off the mark, extending their club record run of defeats to 11.
Only once in the history of Super Rugby has an Australian team suffered a worse streak — when the Melbourne Rebels lost 12 on the trot in 2011-2012.
“We were a little bit loose there at times, trying to chase points and tries,” Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said of their less-than clinical performance. “We gave a lot of ball away in the first half especially, so plenty of stuff for us to work on.”
The ’Tahs have leaked 166 points in their past three games and skipper Jake Gordon said that it was not good enough.
“Throughout the year we have looked good in patches, but we have trouble replicating that for 80 minutes,” Gordon said. “We can obviously score points, we just need to limit the amount against us.”
They started well, but it was scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond who opened the scoring for the visitors on eight minutes after a linebreak from Sevu Reece, with Richie Mo’unga adding the extras.
Will Harrison drilled two penalties to keep the home side in the hunt and they held the Crusaders at bay until the 29th minute, when Codie Taylor crossed after a scintillating 80m counterattack.
It opened the floodgates with Reece and Dallas McLeod also bagging tries to give them a 26-9 lead at the break.
Barrett scored the Crusaders’ fifth a minute after the restart following another slick counterattack.
The ’Tahs, though, refused to go away and quick-fire tries from Jack Maddocks and Izaia Perese gave them a glimmer of hope.
However, five-pointers from Leicester Fainga’anuku, Bryn Hall and Will Jordan restored the Crusaders’ dominance.
In South Townsville, the Reds finally got Australia on the board in Super Rugby Trans Tasman with a win Chiefs in front of 10,200 fans.
A rout looked on the cards when the Super Rugby AU champions raced out to a 33-3 halftime lead after Chiefs playmaker Damian McKenzie had been dismissed for a dangerous tackle in the 22nd minute.
However, five tries in the last half an hour brought the Super Rugby Aotearoa runners-up to within a score of a sensational comeback and it was with relief rather than triumph that the Reds kicked the ball into touch to end the contest.
“It was a lot tighter than we’d have really wanted it,” Reds co-captain Liam Wright said. “We gave ourselves an electric start, capitalized on some ill-discipline. Yeah, really not happy with that second half ... but we got the win we wanted in front of our Queensland fans.”
The Chiefs already had winger Chase Tiatia in the sinbin for a knock-down that saw the Reds awarded an early penalty try when All Blacks fullback McKenzie crashed into the head of Tate McDermott and was shown the red card.
The Otago Highlanders are to play the Melbourne Rebels at Leichhardt Oval today.
Additional reporting by staff writer and Reuters
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