CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, Apr 6 – The formidable Canterbury Crusaders swamped the ACT Brumbies with a five-try second-half revival while Israel Folau made history with a new Super Rugby try-scoring record Saturday.
The table-topping Crusaders, returning to their home base for the first time since the Christchurch mosque massacres, came from 0-7 down at the break to beat the Canberra-based Brumbies 36-14.
Folau scored for the NSW Waratahs midway through the first half against the Auckland Blues for his 60th try, eclipsing the previous record of 59 by New Zealander Doug Howlett who retired 12 years ago.
But it was the resurgent Blues who celebrated at the final whistle with a 32-29 victory to complete four consecutive wins for the first time since 2011.
On a triple-header night, the impressive Rebels outclassed Japan’s Sunwolves 42-15 in Melbourne with Reece Hodge getting a treble and Quade Cooper booting six goals to keep them top of the Australian conference.
The gunning down of 50 Muslims by an alleged white supremacist has forced the Crusaders to rethink its branding given the link to the medieval Crusades, and the familiar sword-wielding knights on horseback have been dropped from the pre-match entertainment.
But they retained their familiar ability to find an extra gear when under pressure to retain their position at the head of the table.
The penalties that blighted their first half — when they conceded eight — disappeared and they found the precision that was missing.
Captain Matt Todd said the first-half discipline “was not good enough”.
“They put us under a lot of pressure but we responded which was good. We were confident if we held the ball we could get points in the second half.”
The Brumbies, missing injured flanker David Pocock and resting three other Wallabies, had a game plan to rattle the Crusaders.
It worked for 40 minutes but the second stanza was a different story, as Sevu Reece and Will Jordan bagged doubles and Jordan Taufua crossed as well before Tevita Kuridrani scored a late consolation for the visitors.
– Huge honour –
In Auckland, the Blues raced to a 17-0 lead with tries to Tom Robinson and Caleb Clarke before Folau’s 60th swung the momentum the Waratahs’ way. Will Miller scored just on half-time to close the gap to 17-14.
In the second half both sides cancelled each other out with TJ Faiane and Ma’a Nonu scoring tries for the Blues while Alex Newsome and Jake Gordon did the same for the Waratahs.
Folau said his record was “a huge honour and a privilege”, but insisted it was “a team effort and without the team those things wouldn’t be possible”.
Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said while four wins in a row was satisfying, letting a 17-point lead slip showed there was room for improvement.
“There’s still plenty to work on if we want to get better,” he said.
At Melbourne, the Rebels quickly got on the scoreboard with Hodge barrelling over after an offload from Will Genia.
He got his second on 15 minutes after Tom English weaved through a defensive gap and set teammate up for an easy sprint to the line.
A Cooper grubber kick out of a scrum was chased down by Billy Meekes for try number three.
The Sunwolves pulled one back on the half-hour when Ryohei Yamanaka, a three-try hero in their upset win over the Waratahs last week, shrugged off a Jack Maddocks tackle and swallow-dived over.
But Copper sent his team into half-time with a 28-8 lead by dotting down after some quality lead-up work from Genia and Hodge.
Yamanaka got his second after dodging past three defenders before Hodge grabbed his third on a charge down and Genia wrapped it up with the team’s sixth try 13 minutes before the siren.
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