Super Rugby: Crusaders still top, Jantjies passes 1,000

Blues' Rieko Ioane goes in for a try during a Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Sunwolves in Auckland, New Zealand, Saturday, March 9, 2019. (Shane Wenzlick/Photosport via AP)

Super Rugby: Crusaders in ominous form to stay top, Elton Jantjies 5th player to pass 1,000 points

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The Crusaders didn't even need their top players to power to a record 57-28 win over the Chiefs in Super Rugby on Saturday and send another ominous warning to opponents hoping to stop them claiming a third straight title and a record-extending 10th overall.

The Christchurch-based Crusaders left a number of their All Black stars on the bench or out of the team altogether but still won by nine tries to four and posted their highest points total against the Chiefs.

It's hard to see who can match the strength in depth of the Crusaders, who have started with four straight wins and are likely to get only stronger as their first-choice players return.

Just one other team is unbeaten: The Melbourne-based Rebels, who have won three from three to lead the Australian conference. South Africa's challenge looks likely to come from the Bulls.

The Pretoria-based Bulls completed a clean sweep of their South African opponents with a 37-14 win over the Sharks. The Bulls have beaten the other three South African teams by convincing margins but the one time they were tested outside of South Africa, they lost to the Jaguares in Argentina.

Still, the three-time champion Bulls sit second behind the Crusaders in the early season standings, followed by the Rebels and the Wellington-based Hurricanes.

For the Crusaders, fullback Will Jordan scored two tries against the Chiefs and All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor came off the bench to also claim a double. Other tries went to wingers Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece, props Andrew Makalio and Michael Alaalatoa, and replacement scrumhalf Bryn Hall.

The Chiefs, back-to-back Super Rugby champions in 2012-13, are without a win from four games.

Typically ruthless, the Crusaders consistently took advantage of errors by their opponents. Chiefs flyhalf Damian McKenzie put in a wayward kick in the sixth minute and Ennor scored at the other end of the field. McKenzie threw a poor pass in the ninth minute and Reece intercepted to score on debut.

The Chiefs hit back with a try to Taleni Seu in the 17th but the Crusaders had two tries to Jordan and another to Makalio to lead 33-7 at halftime.

In the second half, they started with a try to Alaalatoa. The Chiefs scored again but the Crusaders ran away, scoring three tries from the 60th to 69th minutes.

The Chiefs scored two late tries to avoid their largest losing margin against the Crusaders.

"We had a lot of guys getting an opportunity for the first time," Crusaders captain Ryan Crotty said. "They'd earned that opportunity and you saw the talent that was on show. Some of the individual skill-sets from those men was awesome."

Although the Bulls edged the Sharks only three to two on the try count, they were completely dominant.

Center Jesse Kriel scored the Bulls' first try and former South Africa Sevens international Rosko Specman collected two, his second double in his debut season in Super Rugby.

Flyhalf Handre Pollard, pivotal for the Bulls, kicked 22 points to take his season tally to 74 points in four games, more than twice as many as the next highest point-scorer in the competition.

That next best is Elton Jantjies, who became the fifth man to pass 1,000 career points in Super Rugby as the Lions rebounded from two losses to beat the Jaguares 47-39 in Johannesburg. Jantjies joined Daniel Carter, Morne Steyn, Beauden Barrett, and Stirling Mortlock in the 1,000 club.

New Zealand winger Rieko Ioane scored four tries as the Auckland-based Blues beat Japan's Sunwolves 28-20 for their first win of the season.

Ioane had a double by halftime when the Blues led 15-13 and touched down twice more in the second half.

In Australia, New South Wales Waratahs beat Queensland Reds 28-17, the Waratahs' 10th straight win over the Reds.

Shovels in hand, ground staff were called on after every scrum to restore the Sydney Cricket Ground surface, a field usually reserved for cricket and Australian Rules Football and which couldn't cope with the rugby.

The historic venue is hosting Super Rugby due to the demolition of the neighboring Sydney Football Stadium, where the Waratahs played home matches previously.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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