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Rebels bash Cheetahs 35-14 in Super Rugby Blues top Crusaders

MELBOURNE, Australia, Feb 28, (AP): The Melbourne Rebels, with a new coach and eight players on debut, lived up to the promise of their preseason, opening their Super Rugby campaign with a 35-14, five-try win over South Africa’s Cheetahs on Friday. Captain Scott Higginbotham created one try and scored the last in the 83rd minute as the Rebels posted their largest win, carrying on the form of a preseason in which they won three trial matches. The Rebels are the last team to start the season after having a bye in last weekend’s second round, which followed an all-South African first round. They scored three tries to lead 17-0 at halftime — the first time in their history they have held an opponent scoreless in the first half — and clinched their win with a fourth, bonus-point try in the 58th.

Veteran back-rower Higginbotham engineered the Rebels’ second try with a brilliant cross-kick from a penalty which found fullback Jason Woodward unmarked in the in-goal area. He then finished, with a deft touchdown in the corner, a stoppage-time movement which sprawled the length of the field and which gave the Rebels their fifth try and a record winning margin. The Cheetahs had outscored the Rebels 14-13 in the second half until Higginbotham’s try made the home team’s win emphatic. Lachlan Mitchell opened the Rebels’ try-scoring account for the season in only the third minute and Woodward and scrumhalf Luke Burgess added tries before halftime.

Bryce Hegarty scored the try that brought a four-try bonus point in the 58th and Higginbotham’s extra-time effort added gloss to a strong all-round performance. The main concern for the Rebels was their goalkicking: They employed three kickers in the match who collectively missed four shots at goal. “It’s a great way to start the season and nice to get a bonus point,” Higginbotham said. “They really came back at us in the second half. “Credit to the boys, it’s what we worked on and we really held on.” Jean Cook and Ryno Barnes scored second-half tries for the Cheetahs, who have one win and two losses from three games and are at the start of a four-match tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Blues 35, Crusaders 24
In Auckland, New Zealand, The Blues scored four tries in 13 minutes either side of halftime to come from 17-3 down and beat the Crusaders 35-24 in Super Rugby on Friday. Wingers Frank Halai and Tevita Li, and centers George Moala and Jackson Willison scored tries from the 33rd to 46th minutes as the Auckland-based Blues bagged a bonus point and consigned the seven-time champion Crusaders to their second straight loss to start the season. Halai and 18-year-old Li — making his Super Rugby debut — scored within two minutes of each other near the end of the first half as Auckland went to half time trailing 17-15. Moala and Willison then sustained that momentum with tries in the first six minutes of the second half that gave the Blues their first lead. Rookie flyhalf Simon Hickey, in his first Super Rugby match, kicked three conversions and three penalties — six goals from seven attempts — to widen the Blues’ advantage and deny the Crusaders a bonus point.

“We got the shakes in the first 20 minutes but we managed to come back and score two good tries before halftime,” Blues captain Luke Braid said. The Crusaders had opened a 17-3 lead with tries to hooker Corey Flynn and fullback Colin Slade but those tries owed much to some sympathetic refereeing. Li’s try came from an intercept close to his goal-line, running the length of the field, but was referred to the video referee, as Crusaders players suggested Li may have been offside, but replays showed he began his run after the ball was cleared. “You just can’t take your foot off the throat when you’ve got a team 17-3 down,” Crusaders captain Kieran Read said. “You help them if you give them opportunities which they took.” The Blues have a 1-1 record before they head to South Africa next week for matches against the Bulls and Lions. The Crusaders find themselves in an early hole in the hard-fought New Zealand conference. They closed with a try to center Ryan Crotty, their third of the match, but couldn’t draw within the seven points necessary for a consolation bonus point.


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