Waratahs end Aussie drought and Lions win in Super Rugby
The long drought for Australian teams against those from New Zealand in Super Rugby was ended emphatically on Saturday. The last-place Sunwolves won back-to-back games for the first time ever. And the Lions returned to winning ways to revive their stuttering title challenge.
The Crusaders are still the overall leaders, though, after beating the luckless Blues for a 10th victory in 12 games.
The New South Wales Waratahs ended the 40-match losing streak by Aussie sides against New Zealand opposition by convincingly beating the Dunedin-based Highlanders 41-12.
Israel Folau and Taqele Naiyaravoro scored two tries each to lead the Waratahs to the drought-breaking win at Sydney Football Stadium. The home side led 15-0 at halftime.
The Waratahs, in first place in the Australian conference, were the last team to beat a New Zealand side before Saturday. And it was nearly two years ago, on May 27, 2016, when they defeated the Chiefs 45-25.
"It's been frustrating to hear that all the time," Waratahs and Australia captain Michael Hooper said.
"It was an 80-minute performance, and our discipline was there."
New Zealand-born flyhalf Hayden Parker kicked a 30-meter dropped goal four minutes after the final siren in Hong Kong to give the Sunwolves a 26-23 win over South Africa's Stormers — a big upset — and their first back-to-back wins since they joined the tournament in 2016.
The Tokyo-based Sunwolves earned their first victory of the season last weekend when they thrashed the Queensland Reds 63-28.
Later, the Durban-based Sharks beat the Chiefs 28-24 with an 18-point haul from flyhalf Robert du Preez, the son of the Sharks coach. Also in South Africa, the Lions weathered a brave challenge by ACT Brumbies to come through 42-24.
The Lions were aided by a red card to Brumbies lock Rory Arnold, leaving the Canberra-based team to play the crucial last 20 minutes with 14 men, and 13 men for a spell when their other lock, Sam Carter, was yellow-carded.
Brumbies fullback Thomas Banks scored two tries and the Brumbies were ahead 24-21 when Arnold was sent off for a head-high tackle on Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies. Arnold, who picked up a yellow in the first half, knew what was coming and was already heading to the tunnel by the time the red card came out.
The Lions pounced on their advantage, scoring late tries through replacements Marnus Schoeman, Shaun Reynolds and Lourens Erasmus, earning a bonus point and making the victory look more convincing than it was.
Still, it ended a three-game losing streak on tour in Australia and New Zealand for the Lions, the runners-up the last two seasons.
Despite the success for the Waratahs and Lions, the Australian and South African conference leaders, the defending champion Crusaders of New Zealand stayed atop the overall table with a 32-24 win over the Blues in a rain-soaked match at Eden Park in Auckland.
The Blues matched the Crusaders in almost every statistical area — both teams scored four tries and the Blues achieved parity in possession gained, territory occupied, tackles missed and turnovers conceded. But they lacked the Crusaders' ability to make sure of critical scoring chances.
The match raised issues for the All Blacks selectors, who will name a squad on Sunday for a three-match series against France. Crusaders center Ryan Crotty sustained a new injury which will likely continue his absence from test play while prop Owen Franks faces a citing on a striking charge.
The Waratahs lost their past nine matches against Kiwi rivals, including blowing a 29-0 lead against the Crusaders last week in Christchurch to lose 31-29 and sustain the biggest collapse in the competition's 22-year history.
On Saturday, they were helped when Highlanders winger Tevita Nabura was sent off in the 19th minute for a kick to the head of Cam Clark. After leaping to collect a Waratahs high ball, Nabura lashed out his right foot almost karate-style while midair into Clark's face.
Television match official George Ayoub said it was "deliberate action by the player in the air to put his foot in front of him" and suggested that New Zealand referee Brendon Pickerill issue a red card.
Already trailing 8-0 after an early penalty goal to Bernard Foley and a 15th-minute try to winger Naiyaravoro, the Highlanders then lost another player, with All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith yellow carded for a deliberate knockdown.
The Waratahs took advantage with Naiyaravoro scoring his second try — and his 10th for the season.