Hurricane start floors Crusaders, Lions get the Blues

Aphiwe Dyantyi (L) of the Lions is tackled by Jonathan Ruru (R) of the Blues during the 2018 Super Rugby match between the Lions and the Blues at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, 10 March 2018. Photo: BackpagePix

BUENOS AIRES - Wellington Hurricanes started brilliantly and Auckland Blues finished superbly to achieve notable Super Rugby fourth-round victories Saturday.

Hurricanes scored 21 points in as many minutes to lay the foundations for a 29-19 home triumph over defending champions Canterbury Crusaders in Wellington.

Blues shook off a two-loss start to the season by wiping out an 18-point deficit with 18 minutes remaining to edge 2017 runners-up Golden Lions 38-35 in a Johannesburg thriller.

Elsewhere, a 16-second Emiliano Boffelli try got the Jaguares off to a dream start as they halted a three-match losing streak by overcoming the Waratahs 38-28 in Buenos Aires.

Queensland Reds staged a great comeback as they trailed by 11 points during the first half before recovering to win 20-14 in Brisbane.

Coastal Sharks got their first win of the season by exposing the defensive frailties of the Sunwolves to triumph 50-22 in hot and humid Durban.

On Friday, Otago Highlanders and Melbourne Rebels achieved convincing victories over Western Stormers and ACT Brumbies respectively.

Highlanders (two wins) and Rebels (three) are the only teams boasting perfect records early on in the 19-round southern hemisphere championship regular season.

Crusaders and Lions entered round four with 100 percent records, but came off second best in matches that served as timely boosts to the image of Super Rugby.

The competition was cut from 18 teams to 15 this year to try and lure back lost spectators and viewers and drastically reduce the number of lopsided games.

It is tight at the top of the New Zealand conference with just points difference separating 2016 champions Hurricanes (plus 33) and record eight-time title winners Crusaders (plus 29).

Lions are seven points ahead of the Sharks in South Africa and Rebels, the early-season revelations, hold a similar advantage over the Reds in Australia.

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The Hurricanes-Crusaders showdown marked the 100th Super Rugby appearance by reigning World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett, but 19-cap brother Jordie stole some of his thunder.

Jordie was instrumental in two early tries and, after Crusaders had slashed the gap to just seven points, kicked a 50-metre penalty to deprive the visitors of a losing bonus point.

 'Pride and passion'

"We knew we had to start really well and I'm really proud of way we came out," said Hurricanes skipper Brad Shields.

Flight delays meant the Blues had limited time to acclimatise to the stamina-sapping 1,753-metre altitude of Johannesburg.

But they finished much stronger than the Lions with Rieko Ioane scoring twice and Murphy Taramai snatching the decisive try in the final minute.

"We played with pride and passion," said Blues skipper James Parsons while Lions coach Swys de Bruin was furious with his team for treating the ball like "a hot potato".

The try by Boffelli was the equal third fastest in Super Rugby behind an eight-second score from Bryan Habana for the Stormers in 2011.  

It was the first of five tries in the opening half by an Argentine side unrecognisable from that which surrendered meekly to the Hurricanes at the same ground last weekend.

A disappointment for the Jaguares was conceding late tries to Nick Palmer and Israel Folau, which deprived them of a bonus point.

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After a mauling at the Rebels, the Reds have bounced back under new coach and former All Black Brad Thorn with successive home wins and demonstrated their fighting spirit against the Bulls.

Having fallen behind early on, the Brisbane outfit used powerful scrumming to good effect as they scored 10 unanswered second-half points to win.

"We are pleased [with the scrum], but we still want to work hard on it. We're a young pack, but we're not a small one," said Reds skipper James Slipper.

Springbok prop Tendai "The Beast" Mtawarira became the most capped Shark in Super Rugby and his 138th appearance was marked by a seven-try bonus-point success.

"The forwards did their job and the backs finished off the work," said the Zimbabwe-born loosehead.

"That was the performance we had been looking for."

Winger Makazole Mapimpi, who is set to challenge for the Springboks number 11 shirt this year, used his speed and strength to score twice.


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