CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, May 25 – The table-topping Canterbury Crusaders put a torrid week behind them to hold off the Auckland Blues on Saturday while the red-hot Jaguares shored up their Super Rugby finals hopes with a gritty win over the NSW Waratahs.
On a triple header day, the Melbourne Rebels pulverised Japan’s Sunwolves 52-7 to stay one point behind the ACT Brumbies in the Australian pool, although the runaway win came at a price with star scrum-half Will Genia knocked out.
Argentina’s Jaguares moved four points clear of the Bulls in the South African conference by beating the Waratahs 23-15, dealing a big hit to the Sydney-based team’s hopes of making the playoffs.
With two matches remaining, the Crusaders’ 19-11 victory opened up a 13-point lead at the top of the New Zealand table from the Wellington Hurricanes, who have three games left.
The Crusaders, who have been under the microscope following allegations of offensive behaviour on their recent South African tour, looked comfortable at 16-6 before a late Rieko Ioane try gave the visitors the chance of an upset.
However, a Richie Mo’unga penalty with four minutes remaining sealed the outcome for the defending champions in a match played with a heavy dew which restricted try-scoring opportunities.
“It wasn’t pretty at times,” Crusaders skipper Sam Whitelock said.
“We had a few challenges coming home from South Africa, a short turnaround, a few of the boys had a lack of sleep this week.”
But two All Blacks identified in the off-field accusations levelled at the Crusaders, Mo’unga and George Bridge, appeared unaffected by the attention and played starring roles.
After David Havili waltzed through an ineffectual Blues defence to have the Crusaders on attack from the kick-off, the visitors held off repeated raids and it was left to Mo’unga to get the Crusaders on the board with two penalties.
The fly-half also featured in the only try of the first half with a well-weighted chip which Ryan Crotty gathered to send Bryn Hall away.
The Blues, who prop up the New Zealand conference, responded with a penalty to Harry Plummer for the Crusaders to make the turn with a 13-3 lead.
Plummer and Mo’unga then exchanged penalties before Ioane’s try and Mo’unga’s fourth penalty.
– Physical game –
In Sydney, the well-drilled Jaguares, packed with Test players, came into the game on a run of five wins from six and were simply too good for Michael Hooper’s Waratahs.
“It was a physical game. We managed to defend and keep possession and that was where we won the game,” said the Jaguares’ Pablo Matera.
“It’s been a great few weeks. We have the Reds to go (on their overseas tour). It’s a really important game.”
An intense period of pressure paid off for them in the 25th minute with winger Ramiro Moyano collecting a Jeronimo de la Fuente grubber kick to dot down for a converted try.
Bernard Foley pulled three points back but Domingo Miotti cancelled it out with a Jaguares penalty as the visitors took a 10-3 half-time lead.
Moyano bagged his second by finishing a counter-attack to put them 17-3 ahead before the Tahs were awarded a penalty try and roared back when Curtis Rona crossed in the corner.
But Foley missed the conversion and two late penalties from Joaquin Diaz Bonilla sealed the win.
Earlier, Marika Koroibete and Jack Maddocks grabbed two tries apiece in Tokyo for the Rebels, who recorded their highest score in Super Rugby.
The bonus-point victory — their seventh of the season — saw them improve to 33 points, one behind the Brumbies, with three regular-season fixtures left.
However, after a promising start to the season, they face a difficult run-in, including games against the Crusaders and Chiefs.
The Rebels, who dominated the lineout and scrum, went into the break leading 19-0 before running riot in the second half.