SYDNEY – Auckland Blues hammered the ACT Brumbies 38-10 to stay top of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman Saturday as the Queensland Reds edged a battling Waikato Chiefs in a thriller to earn Australia a first win of the competition.
The unbeaten Blues are level with the Wellington Hurricanes, who flattened Western Force 43-6 on Friday, while the Canterbury Crusaders are a point adrift after inflicting a 54-28 defeat on the NSW Waratahs.
But the Chiefs stumbled, crashing 40-34 in Townsville as the Reds snapped a run of 13 straight tournament losses for Australian teams.
The Reds, who won the Super Rugby AU tournament, took the lead courtesy of a penalty try, which resulted in a yellow card for Chase Tiatia.
With Tiatia absent, Reds winger Isaac Henry then split the defence and sprinted for the line on 21 minutes in a pivotal moment which saw Chiefs dangerman Damian McKenzie sent off for a high shoulder charge.
It was a turning point with Suliasi Vunivalu, Feao Fotuaika, and Henry again all dotting down as they exploited the one-man advantage for a 33-3 lead at the break.
But they lost focus in the second half as the Chiefs came roaring back with Pita Gus Sowakula, Tupou Vaa'i, Reuben O’Neill, Bailyn Sullivan and Xavier Roe all crossing in reply to Filipo Daugunu's solitary try for the Reds.
"We set ourselves up with a pretty electric start, capitalising on some ill-discipline," said Reds co-skipper Liam Wright. "But I'm really not happy with that second half."
In Auckland, the Brumbies were leading 10-7 through a Noah Lolesio penalty and a converted try to Connal McInerney in the countdown to half-time when the Blues turned the game with 10 points in under two minutes.
A penalty by Otere Black levelled the scores and from the kick-off Rieko Ioane made the initial break before feeding Finlay Christie who made a 35-metre run to the line.
"That was a huge moment in the game. It was a real tight tussle and that win gave us momentum," Blues captain Tom Robinson said, adding he had always felt confident.
The Blues added converted tries to Bryce Heem, AJ Lam and TJ Faiane in the second half.
A workmanlike Crusaders meanwhile scored eight tries as they inflicted an 11th straight defeat on the Waratahs.
Only once in the history of Super Rugby has an Australian team suffered a worse streak -- when the Melbourne Rebels lost 12 on the trot in 2011-12.
New Zealand's premier team started slowly, making uncharacteristic errors, before finding their groove at a windy Wollongong, south of Sydney.
"We were a little bit loose there at times, trying to chase points and tries," Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said of their less-than-clinical performance.
"We gave a lot of ball away in the first-half especially, so plenty of stuff for us to work on."
After Mitchell Drummond scored the opening try for the Crusaders, Will Harrison drilled two penalties to keep the home side in the hunt until the 29th minute when Codie Taylor crossed after a scintillating 80-metre counter-attack.
It opened the floodgates with Reece and Dallas McLeod also bagging tries to give them a 26-9 half-time lead.
Barrett, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Bryn Hall and Will Jordan all scored for the Crusaders in the second stanza while the 'Tahs produced tries to Jack Maddocks and Izaia Perese.