Blues, Crusaders dominate SA teams

Auckland Blues edged ahead of Canterbury Crusaders to continue New Zealand’s early season dominance of rugby’s Super 14 competition with comprehensive victories in South Africa this weekend.

The Blues and Crusaders, who between them have won nine of the 12 Super tournaments back to 1996, maintained their unbeaten starts to the Southern Hemisphere provincial series.

Auckland scored seven tries for the second consecutive game to thump Central Cheetahs 50-26 in Bloemfontein and moved a point clear of the Crusaders, who missed out on a scoring bonus point in their 22-0 blanking of Western Stormers in Cape Town.

Last season’s beaten finalists, Coastal Sharks, are the only other unbeaten outfit after three rounds disposing of defending champions Northern Bulls 29-15 in the South African derby in Pretoria.

Four teams, NSW Waratahs, Wellington Hurricanes, ACT Brumbies and Western Force, all weekend winners, are four points away on nine points, six points adrift of the pacesetting Aucklanders.

The Waratahs were narrow 15-12 winners over the Otago Highlanders in heavy rain in Dunedin, while the Hurricanes sank the Waikato Chiefs 39-19 in an all-New Zealand match in Wellington on Friday.

ACT Brumbies made light of their injury crisis to smash the Queensland Reds with six tries in a 43-11 win in Canberra and the Force posted their second win of their South African leg with an 18-16 victory over the Golden Lions in Johannesburg on Friday.

Fit, slick and clinical, the Blues followed their 55-10 mauling of the Lions last weekend by weathering early Cheetahs pressure to take an 11th-minute lead which they never surrendered.

Auckland ruthlessly punished poor defending and fly-half Nick Evans finished with 15 points from six conversions and a penalty.

Canterbury scored 11 points in each half to down the Stormers with their only disappointment being their failure to gain a bonus point for the first time this season.

The six-time champions return to Australasia with nine points out of a possible 10 having humiliated the Bulls last weekend.

”It is never easy playing consecutive matches in South Africa and we stuck at it to achieve two victories,” Crusaders captain and man-of-the-match Richie McCaw said.

With the Lions losing to Australia’s Western Force it was another bleak weekend for South African franchises as dreams of a second consecutive title quickly evaporate.

The Sharks scored three tries in seven minutes late in the game to down the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld with French international flyhalf Frederic Michalak sparking a remarkable turnaround when he scored the first of three tries.

The Waratahs picked up their second win from three outings while the Highlanders suffered their third loss, although again the defeat was softened by a bonus point for keeping the margin within seven points.

The Hurricanes played to their potential as they eliminated the errors that had plagued their opening two matches to claim a bonus-point fourth try within 25 minutes against the Chiefs.

Queensland Reds again left Australia’s national capital without a win and have lost their past nine games to the Brumbies after looking to have their best chance of breaking through given the Canberra-based side’s mounting injury plight.

The Brumbies were fielding their third different centres combination in as many weeks but the inexperienced team rode roughshod over Queensland, whose skipper John Roe questioned their lax attitude in committing more than 30 missed tackles. – AFP



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