SYDNEY, Australia, May 21 – The Canterbury Crusaders vanquished another title rival this weekend as New Zealand teams tightened their grip on Super Rugby ahead of next month’s British and Irish Lions tour.
The seven-time champion Crusaders extended their unconquered run to 12 games with a 31-24 win over the Waikato Chiefs in Suva to stretch their lead to 11 points in the powerful New Zealand conference.
Four of the five Kiwi outfits are currently in the eight-team play-off positions, underlining New Zealand’s supremacy in this season’s southern hemisphere club competition.
Defending champions Wellington Hurricanes lashed the hapless South African Central Cheetahs in a club record 61-7 at home to join the Chiefs in second spot in the Kiwi conference.
Meanwhile in Perth, the Otago Highlanders swamped the threatened Western Force 55-6 in their biggest win in Super Rugby and also racked up the most points they have scored outside of New Zealand.
The Golden Lions loom as the only threat to a Kiwi team capturing this season’s title with their 11th win of the season in a 51-14 drubbing of the Northern Bulls in the South African derby in Johannesburg.
The Crusaders only scored three tries to four against the Chiefs but fly-half Richie Mo’unga’s two conversions and four penalties gave them the win, a week after they knocked over the Hurricanes.
“The whole year we’ve had the balance right between forwards and backs,” skipper Sam Whitelock said.
“Either unit can step up when they need to, that’s awesome as a captain.”
Vince Aso grabbed a hat-trick of tries in the Hurricanes’ demoliton of the Cheetahs to claim a club record 13 tries for the season, surpassing Tana Umaga’s 12 in 1997.
The Hurricanes finished with a club record scoreline over the Cheetahs, easily exceeding the 60-27 win when they last met in Wellington two years ago.
– Good few weeks –
The Highlanders made it eight straight wins, and nine from 12 matches this season, by running in eight unanswered tries against the Force as they push towards the play-offs.
It was a horror night for the Perth franchise, who are in limbo ahead of a long-awaited decision about which Australian team will be culled from next year’s competition.
“We have been working towards an 80-minute performance and it was good to get that,” Highlanders skipper Elliott Dixon said. “It has been a good (few weeks) for us.”
Springbok winger Ruan Combrinck made a two-try comeback as the Lions thrashed the Bulls in his first appearance of the season after injury.
Elsewhere, South Africa’s Western Stormers put behind a horror tour of New Zealand with a 30-22 home victory over the Auckland Blues.
Success was particularly welcome for the Stormers after conceding 155 points in drubbings by the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes on their ill-fated tour.
The ACT Brumbies became the first Australian side to win a match in South Africa this season by overcoming Southern Kings 19-10 in Port Elizabeth.
The Canberra outfit hold a four-point lead in the Australian conference after the New South Wales Waratahs finished strongly to beat the Melbourne Rebels 50-23 in Sydney on Sunday.
Lwazi Mvovo scored a hat-trick of tries as the Coastal Sharks cemented their place in the top eight with a 38-17 victory over Japan’s Sunwolves in Singapore.
Argentina’s Jaguares and Australia’s Queensland Reds had byes.