Crusaders, Hurricanes win at Melbourne in Super Rugby

MELBOURNE (AP): Richie Mo’unga contributed 22 points as the Christchurch-based Crusaders bounced back from a surprise first-round loss in Super Rugby Pacific to beat the Highlanders 52-15.

In the other match Friday in the so-called Super Round in Melbourne, where all six weekend matches will be played, the Wellington-based Hurricanes beat the hometown Rebels 39-33 despite a late and spirited comeback attempt by the Rebels. Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea later apologized for making a throat-slitting gesture toward an opponent.

The defending champion Crusaders were beaten 31-10 on their home ground last weekend by the Hamilton-based Chiefs in the main upset of the tournament’s first round.

The Dunedin-based Highlanders began with a humbling 60-20 loss to the Auckland-based Blues.

But they were the better team at the start of Friday’s match as the Crusaders once again struggled to hold the ball for long periods. The Crusaders’ scrum back-pedaled and gave up three early scrums and the Highlanders were down 24-3 at halftime.

Part of it was the brilliance of Crusaders flyhalf Mo’unga who created his team’s second try from nothing. Former England flyhalf Freddie Burns tried to wide kick behind the Crusaders backline and Mo’unga was on the spot to ignite the counterattack.

Center David Havili also was instrumental in the Crusaders’ first-half turnaround with some strong carries in midfield. Havili and Mo’unga combined to put the match beyond doubt with tries in the first seven minutes of the second half.

Mo’unga scored almost from the kickoff, running onto a lobbed infield pass from Havili to charge through the Highlanders defense. And Havili scored himself soon afterwards to make the lead formidable at 38-3.

“It was brilliant to play some footy,” Mo’unga said. “The Chiefs played a lot of footy last week and we wanted to come out and impose ourselves against the Highlanders.

“I was pretty disappointed in myself as the driver last week. I didn’t get us in the right areas of the field so today is very satisfying.”

The Crusaders lineout was a weapon and they scored two tries from lineout drives through prop Joe Moody and hooker Codie Taylor.

The Highlanders had the consolation at least of scoring the last two tries of the match, a late double to Josh Timu, and the knowledge that they’ve played both of last year’s finalists in the first two rounds.

In the late match at the same stadium, Richard Hardwick scored twice within seven minutes for Melbourne to trail by just a point but a 77th-minute try by Jordie Barrett sealed it for the New Zealand side.

Savea scored two early tries and set up another as the visitors led 24-7 at halftime. The All Blacks player was given a yellow card for his involvement in a brawl just before the break.

As he walked off, Savea made a throat-slitting gesture to Melbourne halfback Ryan Louwrens, prompting teammate Reece Hodge to complain to referee James Doleman, “He’s threatening to kill him.”

But there was no further action and Savea apologized after the match.

 “I can understand the fans are furious around the gesture that I made,” Savea said. “It was a heat-of-the-moment kind of thing, that’s footy but I understand, kids are watching us.

“That’s out of character for me so I put my hand up and I apologize for that … I’ve got to be better.”