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Super Rugby: Crusaders top Lions, Highlanders beat Sunwolves

CHRISTCURCH, New Zealand (AP) — Winger George Bridge returned from injury to score two tries within two minutes, lifting the Crusaders to defeat the Lions 36-10 in Super Rugby on Friday.

Bridge scored 15 tries in Super Rugby last season but has played only four matches this year because of a knee injury. His form on Friday thrust him immediately into selection consideration for the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup squad.

Winger Sevu Reece also scored two tries and center Braydon Ennor added another in a match which left little doubt the nine-time champion Crusaders are the best team in Super Rugby.

To so emphatically beat their final opponent of the last two years made the Crusaders' solid title favorites again.

"The Lions challenged us a few times tonight," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said. "They got down in the corner, put pressure on us at the scrum and got some momentum. That's something we knew they were going to do but stopping that is really hard."

Meanwhile, the Highlanders blew away the Sunwolves 52-0 in Tokyo. The Sunwolves haven't won any of their six home games this season, and weren't in this one from early on.

The Crusaders needed only five minutes to score the opening try. Reece ran off the right wing and made a slick break in midfield. He shrugged a tackle and passed to center Ennor, who had an unobstructed run to the line.

When the Lions enjoyed their first extended spell in Crusaders' territory, they earned two penalties from scrums. When the defense wouldn't yield, flyhalf Elton Jantjes kicked a penalty.

The Lions' defense responded superbly later in the half when the Crusaders held the ball through 22 phases without being able to force a breakthrough. Both sides made innumerable handling errors which stopped either achieving continuity.

The Crusaders began to take control in the last 10 minutes of the half. From one incursion into Lions territory, center Ryan Crotty shrugged off three tackles to stretch the defense. The Crusaders moved the ball wide to Reece, who showed immense power bumping off Lions captain Kwagga Smith then forcing his way through three more tackles to score out wide.

Early in the second half, Crusaders pressure led to an attacking lineout and hooker Codie Taylor ran around the line to take the ball and hand an infield pass to Bridge, who scored.

He scored again a minute later. From defense, the Crusaders surged downfield and Ennor burst into space before turning the ball infield for Bridge to score.

Lions fullback Ryan Combrinck intercepted a pass from flyhalf Richie Mo'unga to score a try, but Reece brilliantly chased down his own infield kick to score again in the 57th minute and to make the lead impregnable.

The game in Tokyo was effectively over after the first quarter, after which the Highlanders led 26-0.

The Sunwolves couldn't handle the Highlanders' scrum (two tightheads), kicking game, and pace. The Highlanders led 33-0 at halftime, finished with eight tries, and two more were disallowed.

The only concern for the Highlanders was replacement flyhalf Bryn Gatland, who was injured late and had to be carried off. The Highlanders finished with 14 men and it wasn't a problem.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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