Super 14 Rugby

Crusaders skip eights points clear in Super 14



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New Zealand’s Crusaders blasted away the Waratahs with a withering finish to open an eight-point lead at the top of the Super 14 rugby series after this weekend’s sixth round of matches.

The six-time champions continued to dominate the southern hemisphere provincial tournament, overpowering the Waratahs 34-7 after trailing 6-7 early in the second half in Christchurch.

Not even halfway through the competition and the Crusaders are well on track on 29 points for their seventh title after convincing wins over the Brumbies, Bulls, Stormers, Western Force, Cheetahs and the Waratahs.

The Crusaders face the fifth-placed Hurricanes away next weekend in what is shaping as one of their biggest tests so far in the New Zealand derby.

The inactive Sharks hold down second place on 21 points after a weekend bye, while the Blues moved to third spot after a last-minute penalty claimed a 17-14 victory over the much-improved Stormers in Auckland.

Western Force are Australia’s best-performed contenders in fourth place after winning their second straight match in New Zealand with a 36-28 effort over the luckless Highlanders in Queenstown.

Australia’s Brumbies climbed to sixth place with a 29-23 bonus point victory over South Africa’s Cheetahs in Canberra, while the Chiefs moved into a three-way share of seventh spot with a runaway 43-27 win over the disappointing Bulls in Rotorua.

Wallaby fullback Chris Latham scored a last-minute try for the Reds to snatch a 24-24 draw with the Lions in Johannesburg and hold down 10th spot.

For the first three-quarters of the game, the Crusaders dominated possession but were stonewalled by a stout Waratahs defence. They played tighter in the second spell, outmuscling the Waratahs to produce two telling tries to break the game open.

The Crusaders led 6-0 at halftime from two Daniel Carter penalties but trailed to a converted try by Wallaby number eight Wycliff Palu before the home side unleashed four tries to claim another emphatic victory.

Centre Ben Atiga kicked Auckland home in the final minute to get the Blues’ campaign back on track and ended the Stormers’ hopes of winning three from three on their road trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Atiga redeemed himself after missing three other attempts at goal and slotted home the kick and the looks of relief from the Blues said it all as the fulltime whistle blew.

Midway through the second half the Highlanders looked likely to break their tournament duck when they led 28-20, but the fast improving Force hit back with a converted try and three late penalties to seal the win.

Both sides scored three tries but the Highlanders paid for their high mistake rate against the Perth-based Force, fresh off a morale-boosting away win against the Blues last week.

The Brumbies, in the midst of a crippling injury crisis, recovered from trailing 13-12 at halftime to end a two-match losing run against the Bloemfontein based Cheetahs.

But yet again the Brumbies lost another experienced back to injury with goalkicking fullback Mark Gerrard limping off seven minutes from the end with a right hamstring strain, which could keep him out of the next two games.

In a match that produced nine tries, the Chiefs came from an early 0-10 deficit to take control after half-time against the defending champion Bulls.

Sapa-AFP –

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