Hurricanes win big as NZ teams start strong in Super Rugby

Crusaders player celebrate after scoring try against the Brumbies during their Super 15 rugby match in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

The Hurricanes began the defense of their Super Rugby title by running 13 tries past the Sunwolves in an 83-17 blowout on Saturday as the recently-dominant New Zealand teams began the new season in forceful fashion

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The Hurricanes began the defense of their Super Rugby title by running 13 tries past the Sunwolves in an 83-17 blowout on Saturday as the recently dominant New Zealand teams started the new season in forceful fashion.

Four of New Zealand's five outfits won in the opening round with the one loss, for the Highlanders, coming at the hands of New Zealand rivals the Chiefs.

Alongside victories for the Wellington-based Hurricanes and Hamilton-based Chiefs, the Christchurch-based Crusaders won their opening match for the first time in seven years, beating the ACT Brumbies 17-13.

The Auckland-based Blues served up the most compelling performance after the Hurricanes when they won 56-18 at the Melbourne Rebels on Thursday to open the new season.

New Zealand has provided four of the last five Super Rugby champions and 14 of the 21 title winners overall.

For the Hurricanes, All Blacks openside flanker Ardie Savea began the rout over Japan's Sunwolves in Tokyo in the fifth minute. Vince Aso went over two minutes later, Savea then scored his second try of the match in the 10th, and hooker Ricky Riccitelli helped the New Zealanders to a 24-0 lead.

It didn't get any better for the Sunwolves, who are starting their second season in Super Rugby. The Hurricanes led 31-0 after 20 minutes and 45-5 at halftime.

When South African import Riaan Viljoen scored for the Sunwolves to reduce the home team's deficit to 33 points, thousands of Japanese fans in the stadium erupted in cheers and waved flags when the try was confirmed by the video referee.

Flyhalf Otere Black kicked nine conversions for the Hurricanes.

The latest team to come closest to breaking the New Zealand dominance in Super Rugby also won on Saturday but it wasn't convincing as South Africa's Lions, last season's losing finalists to the Hurricanes, needed a late try by center Rohan Janse van Rensburg to edge the Cheetahs 28-25 in their derby, narrowly avoiding a first-round surprise.

Also in South Africa, the Cape Town-based Stormers raced out of the blocks to lead the Bulls 24-0 at halftime before weathering something of a Bulls fightback to prevail 37-24.

The Stormers created impressive tries for fullback SP Marais, wing Cheslin Kolbe and No. 8 Nizaam Carr in the first 40 and always had an answer despite four tries from the Bulls in the second.

Argentina's Jaguares also began with a win, 39-26 over South Africa's Southern Kings, with a brilliant team effort rounded off by scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou scoring the first of the Jaguares' three tries.

Earlier in New Zealand, center Seta Tamanivalu scored the Crusaders' first try of the season after only four minutes against the Brumbies, and the early signs in the match at Christchurch pointed to a comprehensive win for the home side.

But the Brumbies, fielding a young, new-look combination, defended stoutly, competed well at breakdowns, and allowed only one more try before halftime, despite the heavy weight of possession in favor of the Crusaders.

The win was the Crusaders' sixth in a row over the Brumbies and completed that sweep by New Zealand teams in the first round.

At Sydney, Reece Robinson kicked four penalties and a conversion to lead the New South Wales Waratahs over the Western Force 19-13.

Winger James Lowe scored two intercept tries in the first half to help the Chiefs beat the Highlander 24-15.

Queensland Reds opened with a 28-26 win over the Sharks, and Blues teenage center Rieko Ioane scored three tries — the first hat trick by a Blues player in four years — as they beat Melbourne 56-18.

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