Super Rugby: Crusaders game canceled; Lions, Reds win
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The Crusaders’ winning streak in Super Rugby came to an end when their match against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday was canceled, and called a draw, as a mark of respect to the victims of Friday’s Christchurch mosque shootings.
Both teams were awarded two points. The Crusaders, the two-time defending champions, are Christchurch’s favorite sports team.
With the champions and tournament’s form team out of action, South Africa’s Lions and Australia’s Queensland Reds staged epic second-half comebacks to win their round-five games.
The Lions trailed Melbourne Rebels 26-5 at halftime and 33-5 early in the second half in Johannesburg.
But fueled by the high altitude at Ellis Park, which contributed to the Rebels wilting in the second half, the Lions scored four converted tries without reply to draw level.
The game was decided, thrillingly, when 21-year-old replacement Gianni Lombard landed an 82nd-minute penalty to seal a 36-33 victory.
The Reds began the comeback trend earlier Saturday in Japan.
Flyhalf Hamish Stewart kicked a last-minute penalty to see the Reds home 34-31 against the Sunwolves. It was their first win of the season.
The Reds overcame a 16-point deficit at halftime thanks to three tries in 10 minutes and four in the second half.
Brandon Paenga-Amosa scored two of the Queensland tries.
Before the match at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium in Tokyo, players from both teams linked arms in a circle for a silent tribute to the 49 victims of the Christchurch shootings.
The Crusaders-Highlanders game was set to follow the Sunwolves-Reds meeting, but New Zealand Rugby said the decision to cancel was taken after a meeting with the teams, venue management and police and community organizations.
“Advice from police and venue management was that the fixture could go ahead. However, with strong agreement from both teams we have made the final call not to proceed as a mark of respect for the events that have occurred in Christchurch,” New Zealand Rugby’s chief rugby officer Nigel Cass said in a statement.
Crusaders chief executive Colin Mainsbridge said the club, players and community were deeply shocked by Friday’s events.
“Yesterday’s horrific attacks have left us all feeling stunned,” he said. “We will now regroup and make arrangements for the team to return home as soon as possible to be back in their community and with their families.”
A crowd of more than 20,000 had been expected for the Dunedin match.
The Lions, who lost the last two Super Rugby finals to the Crusaders, made a faltering start to this season and lost two of their first three games.
They looked out of it again after tries by Reece Hodge, Quade Cooper, Bill Meakes and Isi Naisarani in the first half, and another from Tom English straight after the break, took the visitors 28 points clear.
The Lions’ bench came to the rescue, with Andries Coetzee and Lionel Mapoe coming on to score two of their four tries at the end and Lombard kicking a tough penalty from near the right touchline for the victory.