SYDNEY Feb 15 The absence of New Zealand test
flyhalf Dan Carter and long-term coach Robbie Deans made no
difference to the Canterbury Crusaders as they kicked-off the
2009 Super 14 season the same way they ended last year.
It was business as usual for the defending champions as
they opened their campaign with a 19-13 win over the Waikato
Chiefs in Christchurch despite losing Carter to French club
Perpignan and Deans to Australia.
Crusaders centre Casey Laulala scored two tries, including
one in the last minute to snuff out any hopes of a Chiefs'
comeback, to cap an extraordinary opening round where only
three home teams won and six of the seven matches were decided
by less than a converted try.
"Obviously, being the first game of the season, you don't
expect to be perfect, but we had our opportunities and we took
them and I was pleased with that," Canterbury captain Richie
Australia's New South Wales Waratahs and ACT Brumbies both
won high-scoring matches in New Zealand while South Africa were
the big winners in the first round with three successful teams.
New South Wales, runners-up last season, survived a fierce
second half comeback to beat the Hurricanes 26-22 in a spiteful
match Wellington where rival backrowers Rodney So'oialo and
Wycliff Palu were cited for stamping.
The Waratahs raced to a 19-0 lead inside the first 24
minutes after fullback Sam Norton-Knight and wings Lote Tuqiri
and Lachlan Turner all scored tries but they ended the game
defending deep inside their own half against a wave of
"We did everything to lose the game after we got off to a
good start," NSW skipper Phil Waugh said. "But the guys hung in
there and it was a pretty good win in the end."
Flyhalf Christian Lealiifano kicked a last-minute drop goal
to hand the Brumbies a 33-31 win over the Otago Highlanders in
The Highlanders scored three tries inside the first 20
minutes to lead 19-0 before the Brumbies, inspired by Australia
captain Stirling Mortlock, replied with four tries of their own
to pile on 30 unanswered points.
The Highlanders scored two late tries through replacement
front rowers Chris King and Jason Rutledge to snatch the lead
right at the end only to go down to a last-gasp drop goal.
"It was disappointing to let them back in but I guess
they'll be more disappointed than us," Brumbies captain Stephen
The Auckland Blues gained some revenge for New Zealand when
they came from behind to outmuscle Australia's Western Force
25-19 in Perth.
The Blues trailed by 11 points in the first half and were
running into a stiff breeze in the second but scored three
tries in a devastating 12-minute blitz to seal the win.
"The Blues deserved to win," Western Force coach John
Mitchell said. "They were pretty brutal in their contact."
South Africa's leading contenders, the Bulls and Sharks,
both started their seasons with confidence-boosting wins.
The Bulls, champions two seasons ago, moved to the top of
the standings with a 33-20 win over Australia's Queensland Reds
in Pretoria while the Sharks scored 20 unanswered points to
come from behind and beat the Stormers 20-15 at Cape Town.
The Johannesburg-based Lions, who finished bottom of the
table last year, made a brighter start this time with a 34-28
victory over the Cheetahs at Ellis Park.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)