Blues hold off Reds, Crusaders edge Force Super Rugby
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — The Auckland-based Blues continued their winning streak in the trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition with a 31-24 victory on Friday over the Australian champion Queensland Reds.
The Blues have won four straight and lead the tournament with 19 points with a round remaining.
The New Zealand champion Crusaders were a point behind on the standings following a 29-21 win over Australia’s Western Force. The Christchurch-based Crusaders started the fourth round a point behind the Blues and the Wellington-based Hurricanes.
The Crusaders were on track to pick up a valuable bonus point when they led by five tries to two, until the last second of the match when the Force scored a try through replacement Jordan Olowofela to deny the New Zealand franchise a three-try margin.
“It’s a bit of a theme, leaking late points,” Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said. “That really hurts in a points race like this.”
The Crusaders, who rested key players for the match including All Blacks flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, conceded a try after only three minutes and struggled to gain any kind of superiority over the Force.
Tries on either side of halftime by flanker Sione Havili Talitui and fullback Will Jordan lifted the Crusaders to a 29-14 lead and allowed them to hang on as the Force — winless in the first three rounds — played above themselves and mounted a late rally.
Jordan scored two tries and was denied a third for the Crusaders, who miscalculated the strength of the Force’s multinational lineup.
Their team includes Argentinian halves Tomas Cubelli and Domingo Miotti, former All Blacks Richard Kahui and Jeremy Thrush, London-born backrower Ollie Callan and United States-born winger Toni Pulu.
Pulu, who previously played for the Hamilton-based Chiefs and is considered a Wallabies prospect this season, scored the opening try of the match after only three minutes.
The Crusaders rallied with tries by winger Manasa Mataele, Jordan and backrower Whetukamokamo Douglas to lead 17-7 after 28 minutes.
A try by Callan cut the lead to 17-14 just before halftime. But the Crusaders extended the lead when Havili Talitui crashed over just before the break.
Jordan’s second try made the lead 15 points — 29-14 — and that was enough to allow the Crusaders to hang on against the Force, who finished strongly.
The Crusaders mostly had an advantage at set pieces, but the Force spent a lot of time on attack and were only let down by some poor finishing.
In Brisbane, the Blues conceded the opening try to No. 8 Harry Wilson in the 20th minute but rallied with a numerical advantage while Reds hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa was in the sin-bin to score tries via Dalton Papalii and Mark Telea and take a 17-7 lead at the halftime break.
The visitors extended the margin to 17 points when Patrick Tuipulotu crossed three minutes after the interval before trading tries with the fast-finishing Reds in the second half.
Blues flyhalf Otere Black finished with four conversions and a penalty goal.
The Reds went into the match without captain and playmaker James O’Connor, a late omission with a neck injury, and backup pivot Bryce Hegarty. The Queenslanders also lost winger Suliasi Vunivalu to a hamstring strain during the match.
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