PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — The Crusaders outclassed one of their closest rivals in Super Rugby by beating the Bulls 45-13 on Friday in another reminder of how far the two-time defending champion is ahead of the rest.
The Christchurch, New Zealand-based Crusaders scored seven tries to one by the Bulls, making a mockery of their opponents' once-feared home advantage at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
Flyhalf Richie Mo'unga crossed for two tries and contributed 20 points for the Crusaders, who are now 19 points ahead of their nearest challengers in the South African and Australian conferences in the overall standings. Winger Sevu Reece scored a hat trick of tries and Mitchell Dunshea and Scott Barrett also touched down for the Crusaders, who appear destined for another appearance in the final and a record-extending 10th title.
The Bulls, who scored their sole try through center Burger Odendaal, lost second place in the overall standings to the Melbourne Rebels, who beat Queensland Reds 30-24 earlier Friday. The Bulls and Rebels both have six wins and five losses but the Rebels have a better point differential. They've both played one game less than the Crusaders.
The most serious challenge to the Crusaders appears to come from within their own conference after the Hurricanes produced another demonstration of the miracle of winning without possession when they beat the Blues 22-12 in their New Zealand derby.
The Wellington-based Hurricanes are the only team in touching distance of the Crusaders, seven points behind. The Rebels and Bulls are ahead of the Hurricanes on the overall standings because of their positions as conference leaders. They have 12 less points than the Hurricanes.
Mo'unga's two tries for the Crusaders came early. He benefited first from a fortunate bounce after a kick ahead for the first. But his second try was superb as he jinked his way past the Bulls defense. The visitors were never troubled and have lost just once in 12 games this season.
Relying almost entirely on turnovers or possession kicked to them, the Hurricanes showed the potency of their counterattack to beat the Blues by three tries to two while gaining only 30% of possession and spending almost all the match camped in their own half.
The match again highlighted the poor standard of the New Zealand conference. The Hurricanes, second to the Crusaders on overall points after 13 rounds, had neither a scrum nor a lineout, and their indiscipline cost 16 penalties.
They relied on the Blues giving them the ball which the Blues seemed happy to do on their way to their fourth consecutive loss. The Blues constantly turned over possession through handling errors and didn't seem able to construct a threatening attack.
The Auckland-based Blues have arguably the best winger in the world, Rieko Ioane, on the left but he touched the ball only twice.
The Hurricanes' defensive performance was led by scrumhalf and captain TJ Perenara, who harassed the Blues around the fringes of scrums and breakdowns.
The Blues deservedly scored first, through scrumhalf Sam Nock, and the Hurricanes leveled when center Ngani Laumape won a turnover and sent winger Ben Lam on an almost 50-meter run to the line during which he shrugged off four tacklers.
At 7-7, the Hurricanes enjoyed a little time in the Blues' 22, won a scrum and, after Ardie Savea made a thrust from the back, Jordie Barrett took the second pass to score.
The Blues started the second half as the first, camped deep in Hurricanes' territory. After a series of collapsed scrums, the Hurricanes tighthead Jeff To'omaga-Allen was sin-binned and in his absence the Blues finally worked a try to flanker Dalton Papali'i.
The Hurricanes clung to a 14-12 lead, and that changed in the 67th minute when flyhalf Beauden Barrett intercepted a pass in the heart of the Blues attack and ran more than 40 meters to score. It was a pivotal moment. The Hurricanes' defense was stretched and if Barrett had missed his intercept, the Blues might have scored.
The Hurricanes finally made the game safe in the 74th when Barrett forced a turnover, making a tackle then getting up to win the ball. A phase later the Blues conceded a penalty which Barrett kicked for 22-12.
Melbourne dominated ball and territory at home, but struggled to shake off Queensland, which would hit back after conceding.
Melbourne scored four tries, and enjoyed 20 minutes with a man advantage after Queensland captain Samu Kerevi and Scott Higginbotham were deservedly sin-binned, but penalties kept the Reds in the game. Bryce Hegarty's fourth and last penalty kick gave them a losing bonus point.
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