AUCKLAND (AP): Winger Leicester Fainga’anuku scored three tries for the Christchurch-based Crusaders who held on to beat the Auckland-based Blues 34-28 Saturday in a repeat of last year’s final in Super Rugby Pacific.
The Blues came close to winning the fourth-round match with late tries but lock James Tucker and backrower Hoskins Sotutu both lost the ball when they were over the Crusaders line.
The Crusaders’ set piece edge and tenacity in defense in the last 15 minutes made the difference. Down to 14 men at a crucial stage, they fought bravely to defend their own line.
“I think in the first half we might have had the better of that half and then the Blues threw everything at us and we were lucky to get away with it really,” Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said.
Fainga’anuku scored twice before halftime to put the Crusaders back in front and they went to the break leading 24-21. The second try was part of the pivotal moment in the game.
Blues replacement prop Jordan Lay was sin-binned and with no other replacements the teams had to go to uncontested scrums and the Blues were reduced to 13 men. With the Blues two men down, Fainga’anuku strolled almost unopposed immediately before halftime and scored again in the fifth minute of the second half as the Crusaders took their biggest lead at 31-20.
A try to Stephen Perofeta narrowed the gap but the Crusaders held on with the help of a penalty from Richie Mo’unga.
The Hamilton, New Zealand-based Chiefs stretched their unbeaten start to the season to four matches with a 44-25 win over the Melbourne Rebels.
The Chiefs enjoyed their best period of the match when they ran in tries to Rameka Poihipi, Emoni Narawa and Shaun Stevenson to lead 27-8 after 38 minutes. The Rebels kept the match alive with a try to Stacey Ili just before halftime.
Stevenson added his second try and Tyrone Thompson added another as the Chiefs stretched their lead again to 39-15. But the Rebels came back again and scored through Nick Joost to narrow the lead to 39-20.
Etene Nanai-Seturo’s try in the 52nd minute put the Chiefs ahead 44-20 but David Feliuai scored in the 73rd minute to erase the Chiefs three-try, bonus point advantage.
The ACT Brumbies joined the Chiefs with four wins in four matches after beating Moana Pasifika 62-36 despite trailing 14-3 after 10 minutes. The 98-point, five-lead change match saw Pasifika take the lead on 53 minutes when Samiuela Moli drove over the line from their own rolling maul.
But the Brumbies came back with four later tries to post the victory.
Longtime Brumbies player Christian Leali’ifano slotted 11 points from the kicking tee.
It marked Leali’ifano’s return to Canberra for the first time as a Moana Pasifika player. Leali’ifano played 150 matches with the Brumbies, while he also beat leukemia and made an emotional return to the side in 2017.
He later signed with Japanese rugby and more recently shifted to the Pasifika side.
Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said before the match it was an odd feeling trying to shut down the 35-year-old Leali’ifano.
“It’s good to see him back in Canberra, he’s special to this team, special to his community.” Larkham said. “It’s just a great moment for our community to have someone like that back.”