JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Feb 24 – A penalty try ensured the Canterbury Crusaders launched the defence of their Super Rugby crown with a win over the Waikato Chiefs on Saturday while the NSW Waratahs snatched victory in the final minute.
The Crusaders beat the Chiefs 45-23, but it was harder work for the Waratahs who needed a last-ditch try by Ned Hanigan to clinch a 34-27 win over Western Stormers.
Golden Lions, runners-up in the past two seasons, trailed by 10 points before taking control against the Jaguares and winning 47-27 in Johannesburg.
ACT Brumbies had to come from behind for their 32-25 victory over the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
The Crusaders’ scoreline blew out after they were awarded a penalty try when desperately clinging to a 26-23 lead inside the last nine minutes.
It put the defending champions 10 points ahead, forcing the Chiefs to take risks which backfired as they gave away two intercept tries.
The late scoring burst from the Crusaders came after the Chiefs rose from a 19-3 deficit in the first half to lead 20-19 early in the second.
There were nine tries in the helter-skelter but error-strewn encounter — seven of them to the Crusaders.
The champions were also hit with two yellow cards, leaving captain Sam Whitelock unimpressed with their overall effort.
“It’s very, very tough when you’re down to 14 men for periods. We gave away too many penalties,” Whitelock said.
In Sydney, the Waratahs lost the lead five times against the Stormers, but clinched victory following a lineout steal after the final siren.
A strong run from reserve back-rower Jed Holloway and passes from fly-half Bernard Foley and replacement prop and debutant Harry Johnson-Holmes set up Hanigan, who crashed through two defenders to score in the corner.
It was a win that went a long way to dispelling much of the criticism of 2017, with the Waratahs hanging tough until the final seconds, and showing some much-needed desperation when the luck, and the numbers, were against them.
The Waratahs scored four tries to three and were down to 14 men for 10 minutes of the second half, when lock Rob Simmons was sin-binned for a lineout infringement on his ‘Tahs debut.
The young Stormers flyhalf Damian Willemse limped off just after half-time in a major injury concern.
At Ellis Park, Lions’ giant wing Aphiwe Dyantyi celebrated his second Super Rugby appearance with two superb tries against the Jaguares that had the pundits thrilled.
“He had an outstanding game and is a fantastic talent,” said hard-to-please SuperSport analyst and former Springboks coach Nick Mallett.
Ill discipline once again cost the Argentines dearly with wing Bautista Delguy and replacement hooker Julian Montoya yellow-carded.
The Sunwolves, now under Japan’s national coach and former Highlanders mentor Jamie Joseph, looked a vastly improved unit to that which produced just three wins in the previous two seasons.
They took an early lead against the Brumbies courtesy of tries to Hosea Saumaki and Samoa-born Timothy Lafaele.
When the Brumbies replied with their first try to Lachlan McCaffrey the Sunwolves countered with a second by Saumaki.
On half time the Brumbies narrowed the gap as centre Kyle Godwin crossed the line and in the second half they showed glimpses of the form required if they are to again dominate the Australian conference.