Pretoria, South Africa, May 12 – Canterbury Crusaders produced a stunning fightback to regain the Super Rugby lead with a 31-29 win over NSW Waratahs Saturday, while Sunwolves thrashed Queensland Reds 63-28 to record their first win of the season.
In Cape Town, Waikato Chiefs ground out a 15-9 win over Western Stormers while Northern Bulls survived a late Coastal Sharks rally to triumph 39-33 in Pretoria.
Lima Sopoaga kicked Otago Highlanders home 39-27 over South African leaders Golden Lions in Dunedin and Melbourne Rebels pulled off a comeback 27-24 win over ACT Brumbies in Canberra.
Crusaders conceded 29 points to Waratahs inside the first half hour of the clash between the top New Zealand and Australian sides.
But once they worked out how to cut Israel Folau out of the game, they produced five tries and 31 unanswered points to snatch a narrow victory and move one point ahead of Wellington Hurricanes.
Folau was exceptional for Waratahs in the opening stages, scoring two tries.
The defending champions came back with three tries in the closing eight minutes of the half.
They added two more in the second spell while the Waratahs were punished for ill-discipline with Nick Phipps and Taqele Naiyaravoro sin-binned.
“We gave them the ball back early and they really punished us because of it. Once we chopped that it started to turn in our favour,” said Crusades skipper Sam Whitelock.
“But we were nice and calm out there. We stuck to what we knew would work.”
Waratahs captain Michael Hooper blamed poor discipline: “It’s hard to beat these guys with 14 men.”
Crusaders New Zealand’s winning streak over Australian sides to 39 matches.
Japan’s Sunwolves celebrated their first win of the season and only their fourth since joining the competition in 2016.
– Perfect day off tee –
Hosea “Tongan Godzilla” Saumaki scored a hat-trick while fly-half Hayden Parker had a perfect day off the tee with 12 from 12 in Tokyo.
“You have to take the good with the bad, and we have had our fair share of bad,” admitted Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph after his side racked up their highest points total and first victory against Australian opposition.
After losing the first nine matches of the year, there was little hint of what was to follow when the Sunwolves trailed 14-9 after 20 minutes.
But a try by giant lock Grant Hattingh swung the momentum and by half-time Sunwolves were up 29-14 before Saumaki’s second-half rampage.
Damian McKenzie atoned for three misses from the tee by slotting a 75th-minute penalty that sealed success for Chiefs.
Stormers led twice through Damian Willemse penalties before a penalty try on 65 minutes swung a tight tussle toward Chiefs.
“We knew the match would be won up front and the boys did well, particularly at scrum time,” said Chiefs and All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick.
Bulls won a typically frenetic South African derby full of skill and smart off-loads, but also numerous errors.
The Pretoria outfit trailed only once and responded with tries from Johnny Kotze and Lood de Jager to build a 16-point advantage.
“It was nice to see the number of metres gained when we sent the ball wide and some of the passing among the forwards was outstanding,” said Bulls skipper Burger Odendaal.
Lions, beaten finalists in the past two seasons, suffered their third consecutive loss when going down to Highlanders.
Although they trailed throughout, the visitors were in with a chance to snatch a late win when a Marnus Schoeman try narrowed the gap to 33-27 with seven minutes remaining.
But Sopoaga landed two penalties for a 19-point match haul.
Brumbies blew a 24-10 lead at home with 20 minutes to play against the strong-finishing Rebels.
Two tries in five minutes to Jack Maddocks and Semisi Tupou revived Rebels, before Reece Hodges converted a tough penalty in the 77th minute to snatch victory.