Crusaders, Jaguares, Brumbies lead Super Rugby conferences
Defending champions the Crusaders likely sealed first place in the New Zealand conference, the Jaguares took a surprise lead in the South African conference, and ACT Brumbies are top in Australia on Saturday with just three rounds of Super Rugby's regular season remaining.
The Christchurch-based Crusaders, the two-time defending champions, cemented their dominance of their conference with a 19-11 win over the Auckland-based Blues in a local derby.
Both teams scored one try but All Blacks flyhalf Richie Mo'unga kicked 14 points — four penalties and a conversion — to clinch a win which lifted the Crusaders 13 points clear of the Wellington-based Hurricanes, who have a bye this round.
The Hurricanes have a maximum of 15 points available to them in their last three league matches but that probably won't be enough to overtake the Crusaders, who have games left against the Melbourne Rebels and the Chiefs and are unlikely to come out of those without any points.
The Crusaders have lost just once in 14 games this season as they seek to win a record-extending 10th Super Rugby championship.
Argentina's Jaguares, who joined Super Rugby only three years ago, continue to improve markedly.
Having made the top eight and the playoffs for the first time last season, the Jaguares are in position to finish second overall behind the Crusaders and host a quarterfinal after beating the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney 23-15.
Winger Ramiro Moyano scored two tries — his sixth and seventh of the season — as the Jaguares collected a fourth away win.
The Jaguares lead the South African conference by three points from the Sharks, who beat the Lions 27-17 in round 15's final game helped by intercept tries from Curwin Bosch and Makazole Mapimpi.
The Brumbies moved six points clear atop the Australian conference standings after beating the Bulls 22-10 on Friday but the Rebels are one point behind after thrashing the last-placed Sunwolves 52-7 on Saturday, outscoring their opponents eight tries to one.
In New Zealand, the Crusaders adapted best to cold and slippery conditions on their home ground.
A chip kick from Mo'unga set up a try for scrumhalf Bryn Hall in the 20th minute which helped the Crusaders lead the Blues 13-3 after a dominant first half.
The Blues won more possession and territory in the second half and scored a try through winger Rieko Ioane — his ninth of the season — which cut the lead to five points at 16-11 with 10 minutes remaining. Mo'unga's final penalty restored an eight-point margin.
"It wasn't pretty at times," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said. "We beat the Blues earlier in the year and it was tough and this game was no different."
The Jaguares pulled off their second straight win in Australasia having shocked the Hurricanes last week.
Against the Waratahs, the Jaguares monopolized possession in the first half and scored through Moyano in the 25th minute. Moyano's second in the 48th gave them a 17-3 lead.
The Waratahs rallied and closed the gap with a penalty try from a collapsed maul. Curtis Rona came off the bench to score a try which slashed the Jaguares' lead to 17-15 while Pablo Matera was in the sin-bin.
The Jaguares' defense held strong, though, and they pulled away again with a penalty after the fulltime siren.
Melbourne Rebels took full advantage of their game against Super Rugby's strugglers to put 50 points on Japan's Sunwolves.
Wing Marika Koroibete scored two tries and gave up the chance of a hat trick when he passed to captain Dane Haylett-Perry with the tryline open. Winger Jack Maddocks also scored a double while Jordan Uelese took the Rebels past 50 points with a try after the fulltime siren.
The Rebels posted their highest score in Super Rugby but at a cost. Australia scrumhalf Will Genia was knocked out and will likely miss next weekend's match against the Waratahs.
The Sharks were 14-0 ahead against the Lions through flyhalf Bosch's intercept and a close range drive over the line by Daniel du Preez. The Lions made it 14-14 through center Lionel Mapoe and wing Aphiwe Dyantyi. But Mapimpi's 90-meter run after intercepting near his own tryline gave the Sharks enough of a cushion.
Also in South Africa, the Cape Town-based Stormers scored four tries to beat the Highlanders 34-22.