Highlanders, Crusaders, Chiefs win in Super Rugby

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Stormers Eben Etzebeth is tackled by Crusaders defenders during their super rugby match in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, April 22, 2017.

Stormers Eben Etzebeth is tackled by Crusaders defenders during their super rugby match in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, April 22, 2017. (Photo: AP)

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — Winger George Bridge scored three first-half tries as the Christchurch-based Crusaders overwhelmed South Africa's Stormers 57-24 Saturday to stretch their winning start to the Super Rugby season to eight matches.

After the Stormers managed only a penalty from a period of early dominance, Bridge scored his hat trick between the 13th and 32nd minutes, during a spell in which the Crusaders showed sublime handling and passing skills.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who played only 40 minutes before being subbed, also scored two tries as the Crusaders opened an insurmountable 36-3 lead by halftime.

The Stormers came back strongly in the second half with tries to wingers Cheslin Kolbe and Bjorn Basson which cut the lead to 36-17 but the Crusaders were able to monopolize possession and added further tries to Mike Alaalatoa, Pete Samu and Manasa Mataele to post their highest-ever score against the Stormers.

They have made an 8-0 start to the season for only the third time in their history - having previously done so on the way to championships in 2002 and 2006 - and remain unbeaten in 10 home matches against the Stormers.

"I thought the first half we came out and tried to show our intent," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said. "But credit to them, they came back in the second half, scored straight after halftime as a great side does and put the pressure right back on us."

Two of the Crusaders' tries - to Samu and Mataele - came from intercepts but otherwise they were intricately constructed and relied on an outstanding ability to offload under pressure. The best was likely Read's first which began with a long attack down the right flank and ended with the No. 8 scoring in the left-hand corner.

"When we did get our hands on the ball, we used it well and it was great to see the boys using their heads and playing smart," Whitelock said.

Earlier, center Matt Faddes scored two second-half tries to help the Dunedin-based Highlanders to a flattering 40-15 win over Japan's Sunwolves.

The Highlanders, coming off a bye, struggled for much of the match to subdue the Sunwolves before emerging with a bonus point for a win by six tries to two.

A try to All Blacks center Malakai Fekitoa after only four minutes suggested the Highlanders were in for a convincing win but the Sunwolves proved competitive for long periods, holding at least even shares of possession in both halves.

Luck played a part in the Highlanders taking a 21-3 lead to halftime. The Sunwolves had a try to Will Tupou disallowed by the television match official while the Highlanders were awarded a try to Liam Squire from what seemed to be a forward pass.

Scrumhalf Aaron Smith touched down just before the break to boost the Highlanders' halftime advantage.

Faddes scored immediately after the resumption from a brilliant angled run and again in the 50th minute from an intercept to give the Highlanders a 35-3 lead and put the match beyond doubt. Captain Ben Smith scrambled over four minutes later and, at 40-3, the match was all but over.

But the Sunwolves refused to give up and dominated the final quarter, scoring tries through Willie Britz and Rahboni Warren Vosayaco.

"It wasn't perfect and at times we probably threw a few miracle balls and didn't show them respect," Smith said. "They made us pay at times so there's a bit to work on."

The Chiefs eked out a scratchy 16-7 win over the Western Force in Perth to complete another clean sweep for New Zealand teams. The Hurricanes scored 42 unanswered points in the second half Friday to beat the ACT Brumbies 56-21 after trailing 21-14 at halftime. The Auckland-based Blues had a bye.

The Chiefs needed three penalties from Aaron Cruden, the only points of the second half, to see off the Force after the teams had been tied 7-7 at halftime.

Liam Messam scored an early try for the Chiefs and they seemed set to dominate but Matt Hodgson replied with a try from a lineout drive for the Force, who defended stoutly.

Cruden's three penalties after halftime clinched the Chiefs' win and denied the Force a valuable bonus point. The Chiefs also had three tries disallowed in a match which was spoiled by handling errors.

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