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Five From Five For Try-Hungry NZ Sides

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Feb 28 NZPA - New Zealand teams came within one try of the perfect Super 14 rugby weekend as the top of the leaderboard took on an eerily familiar feel following round three.

All five New Zealand teams notched wins and four of them did so while scoring exactly four tries to snare a bonus point. The only side not to were the Highlanders, who managed three in their 31-24 defeat of the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this morning (NZT).

Flanker Adam Thomson appeared to flop over for the fourth in the final minute before being denied by the officials, but the outcome won't sting for long after the southerners notched their first success of the season.

The Highlanders improve from 13th to ninth while the Blues rise from eighth to sixth with their 27-18 win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane as New Zealand teams begin to clog the top echelon.

The leading four now virtually mirrors the 2009 final standings, with South Africa's red-hot Bulls leading the way, followed by the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Crusaders. Reverse the order of the Chiefs and Hurricanes and the semifinal mix of last year already applies.

The defending champion Bulls continued on their rampant way at Pretoria, scoring six tries in the 48-38 defeat of the New South Wales Waratahs. They overcame a 17-0 deficit to notch a third successive bonus-point win and nearly maintain a 50 points-per game scoring average.

There was also more Chiefs razzle-dazzle in Perth, where they powered to a 37-19 defeat of the last-placed Western Force. Winger Lelia Masaga returned from injury with some scintillating bursts, helping his notoriously-slow starting team to their first three-from-three winning start to a Super rugby campaign.

A delighted Chiefs coach Ian Foster still sounded a note of caution.

"We've got our feet on the ground. This competition is about phases of momentum and once you're in them you have to make them last," he said.

"We've started well but when you look at the teams we've played all three are on the bottom of the table at the moment. We're aware we've got some pretty big games coming up."

Foster credited the impact provided by his bench that gradually emptied with 25 minutes remaining.

"If there is a point of difference (last night), you could almost see our team lift when we went to the bench. To a man they made significant contributions."

Also unbeaten, the Hurricanes stuttered through the gears but still had too much for the energetic Lions in a 33-18 win at Wellington. Captain Andrew Hore lifted his team out of a dull period with a brilliant individual try that mixed power, acceleration over 40m and sleight of hand to make any hooker proud.

The Crusaders climbed two places with their 35-6 demolition of the Sharks in Christchurch to kick-start the round, blasting in for three tries in the final nine minutes. Gun winger Zac Guildford bagged a double but it was the physical work of the Crusaders pack and the impressive return off the bench of captain Richie McCaw that will have opponents wary the seven-time champions will launch a strong title bid this year.

Their conquerors last week, the Reds, were brought down to earth by a Blues side who played pragmatic rugby in heavy rain to overturn a 13-8 halftime deficit.

The Reds battered away in the final 10 minutes until Blues first five-eighth Stephen Brett relieved the pressure with a booming 60m clearance that set the platform for winger Rudi Wulf to squeeze over for a decisive try as the clock wound down.

Coach Pat Lam gave Brett a vote of confidence after another mixed performance that featured four missed goal kicks and an opening-minute chip that produced the Reds opening try to Will Genia.

"He's leading the team around the field and working well with Kevvy (Keven Mealamu) and the other leaders. At this stage of the competition there hasn't been the perfect game from any player. He's going to get better and better," Lam said.

The round's only arm wrestle came in Cape Town where the ACT Brumbies and Stormers scored one try each in the dying three minutes as the Brumbies prevailed 19-17.

Stormers fullback Joe Pietersen failed with a conversion attempt after the hooter which would have tied the scores.

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