Crusaders stunned in Super Rugby, Hurricanes close gap
DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — The Crusaders lost for just the second time this season in Super Rugby when they let a 20-0 lead slip to be stunned by the Chiefs 40-27 on Saturday.
The Crusaders had their 20-point advantage after just 20 minutes of the 10-try New Zealand derby but fell apart after that to give the Hurricanes a chance — although slim — of overtaking them at the top of the overall standings in the final two rounds of the regular season.
The Christchurch-based Crusaders' shock defeat and the Wellington-based Hurricanes' 30-17 win over the Sharks in a bad-tempered game cut the gap at the top of the New Zealand conference to nine points. The Hurricanes will win the conference and top the overall standings if they take maximum points from their last two league games and the Crusaders lose their remaining game with no bonus point.
That's critical as the standings leader will be at home in the playoffs and will host the final if they keep winning.
The Crusaders may be unlikely to lose two in a row but Saturday's result revealed more late-season chinks in the defending champions' armor. After being dominant for most of 2019, the Crusaders have two draws and a loss in their last five games.
The Crusaders made a quick start against the Chiefs in Suva, Fiji, scoring tries through Scott Barrett, Mitchell Drummond, and Fiji-born Sevu Reece.
The match turned from the half-hour point as the Chiefs scored three tries in nine minutes through Solomon Alaimalu, Samisoni Taukei'aho, and Jesse Parete to make it 20-19.
Crusaders winger Braydon Ennor scored to expand their lead to 27-19 at the start of the second half. But the Chiefs hit back again with a try to live-wire scrumhalf Brad Weber.
The Chiefs finally hit the front in the 66th when winger Shaun Stevenson broke the line and went under the crossbar. Jack Debreczeni's conversion gave the Chiefs their first lead at 33-27.
Replacement Tumua Manu pounced on a short 22 restart in the 78th for the try which sealed the win and denied the Crusaders a bonus point.
"That was seriously tough but it was satisfying, too," Chiefs captain Sam Cane said. "There was a lot of early chat that we were out of it but, man, we were working hard."
The Hurricanes also saw a significant lead — 20-3 — cut drastically when the Sharks came back to lose 20-17 in Durban, South Africa. Wes Goosen scored the Hurricanes' third and final try, set up by All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett. Barrett also put brother Jordie clear for the Hurricanes' first try and center Ngani Laumape scored the other.
Hurricanes flanker Vaea Fifita was sent off near the end for a late, high shoulder charge on Sharks No. 8 Daniel du Preez and the game finished with the last of a number of scuffles between players.
Argentina's Jaguares increased their lead in the South African conference to seven points with a 34-23 win over the Queensland Reds at Brisbane. With a six-point lead in the conference, the Jaguares, Super Rugby newcomers just three seasons ago, are on course to pull off a major surprise and finish second overall behind the Crusaders.
Santiago Carreras and Felipe Ezcurra crossed for tries in the opening half as the Jaguares led 15-13. Bryce Hegarty's penalty in the opening minutes of the second half put the Reds back in front, but the Jaguares used their bench forwards — most with multiple test caps for Argentina — to overcome their less-experienced opponents.
All were on the field with 30 minutes to play and Argentina internationals Julian Montoya and Marcos Kremer scored to open a 29-16 lead. The bonus-point win was the Jaguares' third from four matches on their tour of New Zealand and Australia.
The Canberra-based ACT Brumbies all but secured a playoff place and first place in the Australian conference by beating Japan's Sunwolves 42-19.
The Johannesburg-based Lions, who have lost three straight Super Rugby finals, beat the Stormers 41-22. Springboks flyhalf Elton Jantjies was dropped for the game by the Lions for disciplinary reasons, reportedly because he argued with teammates and disregarded instructions from his captain in the loss to the Sharks last weekend.