May 4, 2019
Hurricanes edge closer to Crusaders in Super Rugby, Chiefs and Highlanders draw in thriller
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The Hurricanes hung on in a classic game of two halves to beat the Melbourne Rebels 29-19 in Super Rugby on Saturday and close the gap slightly on runaway leaders the Crusaders.
The Wellington-based Hurricanes scored four tries to lead 26-0 after only 21 minutes and maintained that lead at halftime.
But the Rebels mounted a concerted comeback in the second half, scoring three tries to cut the lead to 26-19.
The Hurricanes needed a late penalty by Jordie Barrett and a missed penalty by Rebels flyhalf Quade Cooper to keep the lead to more than a converted try.
"I'd hate to see the territory stats in the second half," Hurricanes captain Beauden Barrett said. "It's great to see us scoring first-phase tries. It was frustrating in the second half but we'll learn from it."
The victory allowed the Hurricanes to move six points behind overall leaders and defending champions the Crusaders with seven rounds of the regular season remaining. The Crusaders were held to 21-21 at home by South Africa's Sharks on Friday.
The Chiefs came from behind to draw with the Highlanders 31-31 in a thrilling New Zealand derby which kept both teams in the playoff race.
The ACT Brumbies beat the Blues 26-21, and the Bulls, like the Hurricanes, weathered a second-half storm to beat New South Wales Waratahs 28-21 and take back top spot in the South African conference.
The Bulls were 21-7 up early in the second half in Pretoria and flying before that lead disappeared with two second-half tries to the Waratahs from fullback Kurtley Beale and left wing Curtis Rona.
At 21-21, replacement prop Simphiwe Matanzima picked a good time to get his first Super Rugby try, clinching it for the Bulls.
The Bulls, the leading team in South Africa, host the Crusaders next week.
"It's great to get back on the winning side of things," Bulls captain Handre Pollard said. "We're a bit inconsistent at the moment so that'll be the chat going into next week's tough one against the Crusaders."
The Hurricanes started almost as rapidly as in their previous match against the Hamilton-based Chiefs, when they led 14-0 after six minutes.
They needed eight minutes to hit the 14-point mark and went to 19-0 after 15 minutes and 26-0 after 21 minutes.
But the Rebels' comeback was led by lock Matt Philip, who burst through the defense after two offloads, and again through hard-working center Billy Meakes, making the score 26-14 after 67 minutes.
When the Rebels scored three minutes later they had the chance to close within seven points with 10 minutes remaining, but Cooper kicked his conversion attempt wide of the left-hand upright. Cooper then missed a penalty in front of the posts with a minute left.
Prop Angus Ta'avao scored two tries, his second in the 79th, to earn a draw for the Chiefs against the Highlanders after they trailed throughout the match.
The Highlanders led 14-12 after the first half and got away to 28-12 with two tries early in the second half but the Chiefs, depleted by injuries, hit back with two tries of their own to make the score 28-24.
The Highlanders edged ahead 31-24 with a late penalty to flyhalf Josh Ioane, who scored his team's first try and kicked five goals from five attempts, but Ta'avao's late try produced a draw.
In standout performances, scrumhalf Aaron Smith passes created both of the Highlanders' second-half tries, and back-rowers Luke Jacobson and Canada international Tyler Ardron were huge figures for the Chiefs and both scored tries.
At Canberra, the Brumbies used their rolling maul to great effect as hooker Folau Faingaa's three tries provided the foundation of a gritty win against the Blues.
While outside backs dominate the try-scoring stats, the Brumbies use their pack as a weapon. They improved to second in the Australian conference.
Brumbies skipper Christian Leali'ifano said it's crunch time for his team, which has five games remaining, in an effort to move into the playoff picture.
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