Rebels, Crusaders and Lions unbeaten in Super Rugby season

Reece Hodge of Australia's Rebels, right, and Robbie Robinson of Japan's Sunwolves battle for the ball during their Super Rugby match in Tokyo, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Rebels enjoy the view from the top after back-to-back wins in Super Rugby

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The Melbourne Rebels have started the new Super Rugby season with back-to-back wins for the first time to join last year's finalists the Crusaders and Lions at the top of the overall standings.

The Rebels opened their season with a 45-19 win over the Queensland Reds, then beat Japan's Sunwolves 37-17, with winger Jack Maddocks scoring the franchise's first-ever hat trick. The Rebels lead the Australian conference with 10 points from two matches, and joined New Zealand's Crusaders and South Africa's Lions as the only teams to win all their games so far this season.

"The pleasing thing was that after the game the boys were already picking out the things they could do better because as a group we have some high expectations of each other," Rebels coach Dave said. "Probably for 60 to 70 per cent of that game we played the way we wanted to play but we let moments go that we shouldn't have and we need to learn to control those moments better."

They now return home to prepare for their clash on Friday with the ACT Brumbies who lost 18-10 to Queensland, who scored all of their points from penalties.

The Lions scored six converted tries and a penalty try in beating the Bulls 49-35 in Pretoria. The Lions lead the South African conference with 14 points from three matches.

The teams were locked 21-21 early in the second half before the Lions took control. Hooker Malcolm Marx powered over, the Bulls conceded a penalty try, and winger Sylvian Mahuza and scrumhalf Ross Cronje went in to effectively the end the contest. Replacement prop Lizo Gqoboka and wing Travis Ismaiel scored late consolation tries for the Bulls.

Defending champions the Crusaders set up their 45-28 win over the Cape Town-based Stormers with four tries inside the opening 18 minutes but the win came a cost with new All Blacks flyhalf Mo'unga suffering a broken jaw.

Winger George Bridge, hooker Corey Taylor, flanker Billy Harmon and scrumhalf Bryn Hall scored as the Crusaders made a spectacular beginning against a Stormers side which initially struggled in the set pieces.

The Stormers cut the lead to 31-21 after 13 minutes of the second half but the Crusaders responded with tries to winger Seta Tamanivalu and Mo'unga to head the New Zealand conference standings with 10 points.

"Full credit to the Stormers boys, they had a very, very tight game last week and they showed all the fight they have in their team," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said. "They really put us under pressure in the second half.

"I thought we started pretty well but, full credit to them, they came back and tested us. They're a good team and they were smart enough to figure out whee we had a few cracks."

The New South Wales Waratahs are also unbeaten but with only one win after drawing 24-24 with the Durban-based Sharks while the Highlanders had a bye this round after their first-up win over the Auckland-based Blues.

The Australians snatched the draw with a try in the final five minutes by replacement Mitch Short, which flyhalf Bernard Foley converted from near the touchline.

The Reds, Chiefs, Bulls, Brumbies, and Hurricanes all have one win and one loss after two games.

The Auckland-based Blues went down 27-21 to the Chiefs and share a winless record with the Jaguares, Sunwolves and Sharks.

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