PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) The defending champion Crusaders raced to 26-0 after 18 minutes as they beat the Stormers 45-28 and the Lions also passed 40 points in out-muscling the Bulls in their derby in Super Rugby on Saturday.
The Crusaders weren’t seriously in trouble despite the Stormers comeback, and the title-holders continued their unbeaten start to the season to top the New Zealand conference.
Winger George Bridge, hooker Corey Taylor, flanker Billy Harmon and scrumhalf Bryn Hall scored tries as the record eight-time Super Rugby winners made a spectacular beginning against a Stormers side which struggled at first in set-pieces.
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The Lions scored six converted tries and were also awarded a penalty try in Pretoria, winning 49-35 in a reality check for the Bulls, who opened their tournament with a morale-boosting win over the Hurricanes.
The Bulls and Lions were at 21-21 early in the second half before the Lions relied on their forward dominance to crush the Bulls’ hopes. Hooker Malcolm Marx powered over, the Bulls conceded a penalty try, and winger Sylvian Mahuza and scrumhalf Ross Cronje went in.
That run of four tries, and two yellow cards for the Bulls in quick succession, ended the contest. Replacement prop Lizo Gqoboka and wing Travis Ismaiel scored late consolation tries to make it respectable for the Bulls.
New South Wales continued their trend of late escapes with a try in the final five minutes by replacement Mitch Short in a 24-24 draw at the Sharks. Flyhalf Bernard Foley converted from near the touchline to level the scores.
The Sharks scored three tries, two to center Lukhanyo Am, but the Waratahs kept coming back, with Jake Gordon and captain Michael Hooper going over before a break down the left side saw Short squeeze in for the late try.
Last week, New South Wales also scored right at the death to beat the Stormers.
Winger Jack Maddocks grabbed three tries as the Melbourne Rebels beat the Sunwolves 37-17 in Tokyo, starting the season with back-to-back wins for the first time.
The Stormers rallied strongly against the Crusaders in the second and third quarters, despite a second try to Bridge, to cut the lead to 31-21 after 13 minutes of the second half, testing the mettle of the home team.
The Crusaders responded with tries to winger Seta Tamanivalu and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga to pull away to their second win of their season and to retain their unbeaten record in 12 matches against the Stormers in Christchurch.
They also increased to 13 matches their winning streak at home against all teams from outside New Zealand.
The Crusaders took a bonus point for winning by seven tries to four, but they were under pressure to defend that point when they were reduced by yellow cards to 13 men in the final minutes.
The Lions, losing finalists to the Crusaders last season, were ultimately convincing in their Johannesburg-Pretoria derby against the Bulls to start their season with three wins from three.
In Tokyo, Melbourne and the Sunwolves were locked at 10-10 at halftime but the Rebels, following their 45-19 win over the Queensland Reds last weekend, scored 27 second-half points to complete a convincing victory.
The Hurricanes improved steadily after a halting first-half performance to post their first win, taking a bonus point from a 34-9, five tries to nil win over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.
The Hurricanes were desperate for a win after a shock 21-19 loss to the Bulls in Pretoria last weekend. First-half tries to winger Ben Lam and center Ngani Laumape gave the Hurricanes an unconvincing 12-6 lead at halftime, as they struggled with a shaky scrum and handling errors.
The Jaguares closed to 12-9 with a third penalty to Nicolas Sanchez.
That shook the Hurricanes into life and they scored further tries to Matt Proctor and Vince Aso, the second while prop Ben May was in the sin-bin.
The Jaguares pressed the Hurricanes but lacked finishing skills while the Hurricanes added a superb late try to Blade Thompson.