Buenos Aires, Argentina, Mar 3 – Reigning Super Rugby champions Canterbury Crusaders and 2017 runners-up Golden Lions scored seven tries each on Saturday as they maintained great early season form with big bonus-point wins.
Record eight-time title-holders Crusaders ran in four early tries en route to a 45-28 triumph over Western Stormers in Christchurch.
The entire Lions front row scored as they punished 13-man Northern Bulls to win a high-octane local derby 49-35 in Pretoria.
Melbourne Rebels are another team that have begun the southern hemisphere competition impressively, beating Sunwolves 37-17 in Tokyo for a second successive win.
Rebels top the Australia conference by four points, Crusaders have a similar lead in New Zealand and the Lions have opened a nine-point advantage in South Africa.
Coastal Sharks and NSW Waratahs drew 24-24 in a Durban contest that was always tense but riddled with handling errors.
The Argentine Jaguares are the only side without a point after suffering a third straight loss by going down 34-9 to Wellington Hurricanes in Buenos Aires.
Crusaders’ victory may have come at some cost with fly-half Richie Mo’unga suffering a suspected broken jaw.
He was taken to hospital after colliding with Stormers prop Steven Kitshoff and could be sidelined for several weeks.
Winger George Bridge again tormented Stormers, scoring two tries after notching a hat-trick the last time the sides met in Christchurch.
– Second-half test –
Crusaders turned around 31-7 ahead at half-time and while Stormers won kudos for a brave second-half comeback, they never threatened to pull off a sensational victory.
“We started off pretty well but full credit to them, they came back and tested us,” said Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock.
After beginning with a win over the Hurricanes, Bulls paid dearly for ill discipline as they were savaged by the Lions.
Conraad van Vuuren was yellow-carded on 54 minutes for offside and fellow forward Nic de Jager went to the sin bin a minute later for collapsing a maul.
The Lions added 14 points when numerically advantaged to go 42-21 clear and got a further try before Bulls scored twice in a late rally.
“I was really happy with our mauling,” said Lions skipper Warren Whiteley. “We had to fight for the victory and there is plenty of room for improvement.”
Stand-in Bulls captain Handre Pollard said: “Losing two players to the sin bin in quick succession proved too much for us.”
Hurricanes reacted to a tongue lashing from coach Chris Boyd after losing at the Bulls by scoring five tries in Argentina to climb from last to second in the New Zealand conference.
– Rebels double up –
All the threequarters bar All Black Julian Savea scored for the former champions, who led 12-6 at half-time and pulled away in the closing stages.
Reigning World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett started for the first time this season and slotted three of his five shots at goal.
Mitch Short came off the bench to score a late try and Bernard Foley converted from the touchline to salvage a draw for Waratahs in an error-strewn match.
Wallaby fly-half Foley kicked nine points, taking his Super Rugby total to 758. Fellow Test back Kurtley Beale retired injured in the opening half.
There was never more than seven points between the teams and Sharks squandered several scoring chances to win after losing their opener at the Lions.
“Sharks have only themselves to blame for not winning,” said SuperSport TV analyst and former Springboks coach Nick Mallett.
“Their handling was poor, so was some of the passing and decision making, and they gifted two tries to the Waratahs.”
After a first half that ended 10-10, Rebels pulled away to start a Super Rugby season with two victories for the first time.
Jack Maddocks scored a hat-trick for the Melbourne outfit, whose chief goal-kicker Jack Debreczeni had an off-day, missing three conversions.