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Chiefs, Blues win Super Rugby derbies

The Blues and Chiefs have continued their strong starts to the Super Rugby Pacific season with New Zealand derby victories.

The Blues handed the Crusaders a fifth straight loss 26-6 at Auckland's Eden Park on Saturday night, while the Chiefs held off the fast-finishing Highlanders for a 28-21 win at Hamilton's FMG Stadium Waikato hours earlier.

The wins lifted the Chiefs (18 points) and Blues (17) into the top-four, trailing the undefeated Hurricanes (22).

With steady rain falling, which made expansive rugby difficult, first-five Stephen Perofeta put the Blues ahead early with the first of his four penalties.

The Crusaders tried to keep the ball in hand and captain David Havili went close to scoring in the midst of a lineout maul. When the home side lost flanker Dalton Papali'i to a yellow card, they had another crack, but No 8 Cullen Grace knocked on near the tryline.

With Papali'i back on the field, the Crusaders took the points on offer, with first-five Riley Hohepa successful from close-range. 

At the other end, Blues hooker Ricky Riccitelli also charged over from a lineout maul, but replays revealed he lost the ball.

After 30 minutes, Perofeta restored the Blues lead with a 40-metre penalty kick, but Hohepa responded from a similar distance. 

The Blues suffered a major blow before halftime, when fullback Zarn Sullivan hobbled off with a calf injury, but when Crusaders halfback Willi Heinz was yellow-carded after the siren, Perofeta put his side ahead again at the break.

Ofa Tu'ungafasi
The Blues defeated the Crusaders at Eden Park for the first time in 10 years. PHOTO: SUPER RUGBY

Immediately after the restart, Cole Forbes - who replaced Sullivan - and Perofeta broke upfield and into the Crusaders 22, and 13 phases later, prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi barged over for the first try of the contest.

Within seconds, the Blues took a quick tap and poured back into Crusaders territory, with Forbes putting centre AJ Lam across for a second. Havili left the field soon after, adding to their growing casualty list.

With the Crusaders short-handed, wing Caleb Clarke burst out of his own half, earning the Blues another penalty advantage and with wing Sevu Reece in the sin-bin for offside, just as Heinz returned.

Riccitelli was held up from lineout maul, but the Crusaders managed to force a turnover. The hosts continued to exert pressure and their pack simply marched through a Crusaders scrum to earn another penalty, slotted by Perofeta for a 20-point lead.

From the kickoff, loose forward Corey Kellow charged down a Blues clearance and centre Levi Aumua seemed to have a try, but replays showed Clark knocking the ball free in a despiration goal-line tackle.

The Crusaders still had field position, but their lineout let them down again and Forbes was able to clear the threat.  

The result provided a fitting celebration of 100 appearances for Blues captain and lock Patrick Tuipulotu, who played out the entire 80 minutes in his comeback from a broken jaw.

The Chiefs victory was thanks to a strong first half as the Chiefs ran away to a 21-0 lead at the break. The Highlanders’ start set the tone for a rough opening 40 minutes when returning flyhalf Rhys Patchell put the opening kick-off into touch on the full.

It set the Chiefs in perfect field position and while Damian McKenzie's penalty did not have the distance, Daniel Rona opened the scoring when Shaun Stevenson put him into space with a nice offload.

The Chiefs' pack rolled through and took advantage of a yellow card to Timoci Tavatavanawai when hooker Bradley Slater mauled his way over the line.

Unfortunately, the half went from bad to worse when centre Tanielu Tele'a was yellow-carded for a dangerous cleanout on Quinn Tupaea, eventually upgraded to a red.

Tupaea's centre partner Rameka Poihipi was the benefactor, slicing over the line to cement the commanding advantage.

Chiefs rugby
The Chiefs ran in four converted tries to see off the Highlanders in Hamilton. PHOTO: SUPER RUGBY

Cortez Ratima looked to seal the win when he dived over the line, capping off an impressive night for the scrumhalf as he backed up a Damian McKenzie break.

However, the Highlanders refused to die and it was Tavatavanawai that sparked them into life.

The wing scored in the 59th minute for their first points of the game before a yellow card to Chiefs number eight Luke Jacobson completed the shift in momentum.

Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens dived over the line and when Nikora Broughton darted over with two minutes to go, suddenly the game came alive.

The Highlanders had one last chance to score after the siren but the Chiefs defence held strong to come away with the win.

The Crusaders host the Chiefs in Christchurch on Friday night (kick-off 7.05pm), while the Blues face cross-town rivals Moana Pasifika at Eden Park on Saturday (kick-off 4.35pm) and the Highlanders welcome the Hurricanes to Dunedin (kick-off 7.05pm).

Blues 26 (Ofa Tu'ungafasi, AJ Lam tries; Stephen Perofeta 2 con, 4 pen) Crusaders 6 (Riley Hohepa 2 pen). HT: 9-6

Chiefs 28 (Daniel Rona, Cortez Ratima, Bradley Slater, Rameka Poihipi tries; Damian McKenzie 4 con) Highlanders 21 (Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Nikora Broughton tries; Sam Gilbert 3 con). HT: 21-0


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