WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Hurricanes overcame an exhausting travel schedule to beat the defending champion Crusaders 29-19 in Super Rugby on Saturday, the Crusaders' first loss of the season.
The New Zealand side played its first match in South Africa, its second in Argentina last Sunday, then returned home with only days to prepare for the clash with the Crusaders who began their season with two wins at home.
In the other early match Saturday, the Queensland Reds overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit to beat South Africa's Bulls 20-14.
The Hurricanes stunned the Crusaders with a four-try first half, rushing to a 26-5 lead after 31 minutes, then held out a concerted rally which saw the Crusaders close to within seven points at 26-19 midway through the second half.
A 67th-minute penalty to fullback Jordie Barrett — one of three Barrett brothers playing in the match — restored a 10-point margin and allowed the Hurricanes to hold on for their second win in three games.
"We didn't want to use (the travel) as an excuse," Hurricanes captain Brad Shields said. "We knew we we had to start really well and I'm proud of the way we came out."
The Hurricanes led after four minutes with a try to prop Chris Eaves, who surged through a lineout after the Crusaders had failed to control possession. Scrumhalf T.J. Perenara added a second try in the 13th minute after a midfield break by Jordie Barrett. who hurled a pass infield and found Perenara running a perfect support line.
The Crusaders sustained major setbacks when they lost captain Sam Whitelock and center Ryan Crotty to head injuries during the first half. The Hurricanes increased their advantage when winger Ben Lam dashed almost 80 meters for a try in the 22nd minute after another defensive breakdown by the Crusaders.
Manasa Mataele scored for the defending champions in the 30th minute to make it 21-5 but the Hurricanes touched down again from the kickoff when Shields charged down a clearing kick and Matt Proctor recovered the ball to score.
The Hurricanes went off their game in the second half, struggling to secure a reliable source of possession and making handling and disciplinary errors. That allowed the Crusaders to hit back with tries to backrower Jordan Taufua and prop Michael Alaalatoa to make it 26-19.
The Hurricanes were under severe pressure from the Crusaders' rolling mauls but managed to regroup and extend their lead with Jordie Barrett's penalty, then hold on in a match which included seven minutes of injury time.
At Brisbane, the Reds won consecutive matches for the first time in almost four years.
Caleb Timu and Aidan Toua scored tries, while a late Jono Lance penalty from almost 50 meters gave the Reds some apparent breathing space with five minutes to go.
But it was still a tight finish as the South Africans rallied for an attempted winning try until well after the final siren. Replacement hooker Alex Mafi sealed it for Queensland with a tackle that dispossessed Springbok lock Lood de Jager, who was closing in just six meters out from the line.