MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — New Zealand-based teams again out-performed Australian opponents during the first “Super Weekend” of trans-Tasman matches in Super Rugby Pacific.
The ACT Brumbies beat the Dunedin-based Highlanders 28-17 Sunday to post the only win by an Australian team over a Kiwi rival in five matches over three days at Melbourne’s AAMI Stadium.
None of the matches was a blowout but a gulf between the New Zealand and Australian teams still was apparent, notably in the ability of the Kiwi teams to finish matches more strongly.
In the first match of the round between the Hamilton-based Chiefs and New South Wales Waratahs, the Waratahs trailed by only three points, 30-27, after 51 minutes. But the Chiefs scored 21 unanswered points in the last 29 minutes, including a third and fourth try for winger Jonah Lowe.
“The difference between us and the Kiwis at the moment is that last 15 to 20 minutes,” Waratahs coach Darren Coleman said. “That’s the biggest thing we need to improve.
“The cream rises, as they say and we are not quite there yet. The crux of it was the Kiwis blew us away in the last 15-20 minutes, like they have been doing for years, so we better get on with fixing that.”
The Auckland-based Blues led the Fijian Drua 28-18 after 59 minutes in a match between the top-ranked New Zealand and last-placed Australian teams. The Fijian Drua rattled the Blues with their physical approach throughout the match and spent large parts of the second half in Blues territory. But the Blues scored two tries from intercepts and winger A.J. Lam completed a double in the 64th minute that closed out the win.
“It was a scrappy performance and we just couldn’t get our flow going at all,” Blues coach Leon MacDonald said. “But we won and we got got five points and that’s what we wanted.”
In the most striking example of the comeback ability of the New Zealand teams, the Wellington-based Hurricanes trailed the Queensland Reds 17-0, then scored 30 unanswered points to beat the reigning Australian champions 30-17.
The match was scrappy, punctuated by stoppages and by three yellow cards — two to the Hurricanes. Bailyn Sullivan and Tyrel Lomax both scored two tries for the Hurricanes and Sullivan also received a yellow card in the ninth minute.
“These New Zealand sides will make you pay for a lack of discipline,” Reds coach Brad Thorn said. “You’ve got to learn your lessons fast.”
The Brumbies won an important victory for the Australian teams to prevent a New Zealand sweep that might have been damaging to the trans-Tasman section of the competition. The Australian teams were expected to have learned from last season’s trans-Tasman competition in which they won only two of 26 matches.
In demonstrating that the Australian teams can beat New Zealand sides, the Brumbies kept interest in the competition alive, though crowds at the Super Weekend fell below expectations.
The Melbourne Rebels also injected interest into the competition with a bold performance against the Christchurch-based Crusaders. The Crusaders were expected to win easily but led only 7-3 at halftime in the face of determined Rebels’ defense.
While they eventually ran out winners by six tries to two, the Crusaders’ struggles gave hope to other Australian teams.
More AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports