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Blues, Chiefs, Drua win in Super Rugby Pacific's 5th round

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — The Auckland-based Blues produced a superb second-half performance to beat the Crusaders 26-6 in Super Rugby Pacific on Saturday, consigning the 11-time champions to their fifth consecutive defeat in 2024.

The teams were closely matched in a rain-drenched first half in which all points came from penalties. The Blues led 9-6 at halftime.

Adapting their play much better to the wet conditions, the Blues scored two tries in the first six minutes of the second half and got away to a 23-6 lead from which the Christchurch-based Crusaders could not recover.

The Crusaders had won 17 of the last 18 matches between the teams and the Blues were eager for revenge against a Crusaders team weakened by injuries and defections.

In the first half, both teams struggled for cohesion as they tried too much in wet and slippery conditions. The Crusaders were at their best pursuing box kicks from scrumhalf Willie Heinz. But Heinz was sin-binned just before halftime and that was costly.

The Crusaders lineout also was a major weakness and they were under pressure when the Blues held the ball and bulldozed ahead with their forwards in tight combination.

The Blues took charge with tries to prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi and center A.J. Lam in the first six minutes of the second half. For the remainder of the match, the Crusaders defended valiantly but under constant pressure, particularly when winger Sevu Reece was sin-binned in the 51st minute.

Captain Patrick Tuipulotu was part of a Blues team which beat the Crusaders in his debut match and had to wait 10 years and until his 100th match Saturday to win again.

“It’s been 10 years between drinks,” Tuipulotu said. “It’s very special to be part of. It was a tough thing to go through for 10 years but there was a different feeling out there tonight and I think that showed in the result.”

Kemu Valetini kicked a dropped goal in the ninth minute of golden point extra time to give the Fijian Drua a 39-36 win over the New South Wales Waratahs in Lautoka, their second win in two games at home this season and their sixth over the last two years.

Valetini has been a match-winner for the Drua, kicking last minute goals in two of their home wins last season. Center Iosefo Masi was also a hero for the Drua on Saturday, scoring three first half tries.

The loss was a blow for the Waratahs who rallied from 26-10 down at halftime and 33-17 in the middle of the second half to level the match at 36-36 just before full time. The Waratahs have lost their last three matches by a combined total of five points.

Both teams had winning chances in extra time — Waratahs flyhalf Tane Edmed missed a dropped goal attempt in the 85th minute — before the Drua finally snatched the match in front of an ecstatic home crowd. It was the Drua’s first win over the Waratahs.

The Hamilton-based Chiefs led 28-0, then held on to beat the 14-man Highlanders 28-21 later Saturday. In the final match of the round, the Western Force scored six tries to beat the Queensland Reds 40-31 for their first win of the season.

Daniel Rona, Bradley Slater, Rameka Poihipi and Cortez Ratima scored tries as the Chiefs opened a 28-0 lead after 53 minutes. The Dunedin-based Highlanders were reduced to 14 men in the 38th minute when a yellow card against Tanielu Tele’a for a dangerous clear-out was upgraded to red.

In spite of the numerical disadvantage, the Highlanders finished strongly with tries to Timoci Tavatavanawai, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens and Nikora Broughton, all converted by Sam Gilbert, to claim a bonus point.

On Friday, the Wellington-based Hurricanes beat the Melbourne Rebels 54-28 and the ACT Brumbies beat Moana Pasifika 60-21.

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AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby