SUVA, Fiji (AP) The Crusaders overcame a halftime deficit to beat the Chiefs 31-24 in a thrilling Super Rugby match in Fiji on Friday, extending their winning start to the season to a club- and tournament-record 12 consecutive games.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs, who have beaten the Christchurch-based Crusaders in their last four meetings, led 17-13 after a fast-paced first half. But the Crusaders gained control in the second spell in the Fijian capital Suva and cemented their 12-0 record with tries to fullback David Havili and replacement hooker Ben Funnell.
Havili’s was one of two tries by the Crusaders – who were outscored four tries to three – which was contentious and which left the Chiefs aggrieved that most marginal calls in the match went against them.
The Havili try appeared to come from a forward pass from the Crusaders’ Fiji-born winger Seta Tamanivalu. A first-half try to flanker Heiden Bedwell-Curtis came from an obstruction which the television match official ruled as inconsequential.
While the Crusaders opened an eight-point lead at the top of the overall standings with victory in that New Zealand derby, the Stormers ended a four-game losing streak by beating the Blues 30-22 in Cape Town, South Africa.
The Stormers were one of the early pacesetters before a poor tour of New Zealand, but they came back from 12-3 and 19-10 down on their return home to inflict the first defeat on the Auckland-based Blues this season by a non-New Zealand team.
The Blues were in control early in the second half when flanker Blake Gibson went over for their third try after an offload from returning center Sonny Bill Williams.
That gave the Blues a nine-point cushion, but the Stormers turned it around with a penalty by fullback SP Marais and then a try from a quick tap by stand-in flyhalf Dillyn Leyds.
The Blues’ chances evaporated when winger Matt Duffie was sent off with 15 minutes to go for a second yellow card offense.
Replacement Sikhumbuzo Notshe ground his way over from close range for the last of the Stormers’ three tries and Marais added a late shot at goal to make the game safe, and seal the Stormers’ first win since early April.
The Crusaders were helped to victory against the Chiefs by a superb performance from flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, who made a series of line breaks, including one which led to Funnell’s try, and who kicked six goals from seven attempts.
Mo’unga’s fourth and final penalty in the 75th minute gave the Crusaders their seven-point margin. They also defended superbly when the Chiefs had two attacking lineouts from penalties in the last three minutes, on both occasions winning the ball against the throw.
The Crusaders lost flanker Matt Todd to a concussion shortly before the match and then All Blacks center Ryan Crotty, who failed a concussion test early in the first half. The Chiefs also lost center Sam McNicol and then his replacement, former All Blacks flyhalf Stephen Donald, to failed concussion tests.
The Crusaders responded best to those setbacks and were able to perform consistently well under pressure.
”The way the whole squad has stepped up this year has been unreal,” Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said. ”It doesn’t matter if guys haven’t been in the team and get called in late or if they’ve been starting every week, the belief is there and it’s great the boys are working with each other.”
With three games of the regular season remaining for the Crusaders, they have the chance to go 15-0 and break the Stormers’ record of 14 victories in a Super Rugby season, which was set in 2012.