The Canterbury Crusaders underlined their status as Super Rugby Pacific favourites in the second round as the Wellington Hurricanes pulled off a great escape against the Auckland Blues.
Seeking a sixth championship in as many years, the Crusaders roared back from a 13-point deficit to grind down the Otago Highlanders 34-19 at their Dunedin home on Friday.
It was a win set up by an early contender for try of the season, as Crusaders fullback Will Jordan beat several defenders to touch down after a breathtaking counter-attack launched from their 10-metre line.
The Crusaders, who beat the Wellington Hurricanes 42-32 in round one, moved to second on the table, level on nine points with the leading ACT Brumbies.
In an emotion-charged match following the recent deaths of former Auckland and All Blacks players Va’aiga Tuigamala and Joeli Vidiri, the Hurricanes scored three unanswered tries in the last 10 minutes to overhaul the Blues 33-32 in Dunedin on Saturday.
Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea burst down the right wing to score a sensational last-minute try, cutting back inside to touch down behind the posts and ensure Ruben Love would slot the winning conversion from straight in front.
Hurricanes winger Salesi Rayasi was instrumental in the win, grabbing a hat-trick of tries, including two back-to-back to open the door for Savea’s winner.
The Canberra-based Brumbies thumped Fijian Drua 42-3 in a bonus point win at home, underscoring the challenge for the Pasifika expansion side, who were thrashed 40-10 by the New South Wales Waratahs in their debut last week.
The Waratahs, winless through a dreary 2021 season, were unable to back up their first round victory, falling 20-16 to the undefeated Queensland Reds at Sydney’s Leichhardt Oval.
The undefeated Reds’ win put them third on the table, two points ahead of the fourth-placed Waratahs.
Thrashed 23-5 by the Reds in their season-opener, the Melbourne Rebels’ miserable start continued with a 28-5 loss at home to the fifth-placed Western Force.
Moana Pasifika, the second expansion side in Super Rugby Pacific, were again made to wait for their tournament debut as their second round match against the Waikato Chiefs was postponed.
The New Zealand-based Moana Pasifika suffered an outbreak of COVID-19 among their playing group in the leadup to round one, putting their season opener against the Blues on ice.