Crusaders on top as Super Rugby takes a break

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The Crusaders beat the Blues 26-21 Saturday to reclaim first place in New Zealand and on the overall table from the Chiefs after 14 of 17 regular-season rounds.

The Brumbies crushed the Sunwolves 66-5 later Saturday to move past the Waratahs into first place in Australia, despite the Waratah's 45-25 win over the Chiefs on Friday.

And the Lions sent a warning to their rivals outside South Africa when they beat the Bulls 56-20 to cement top spot on a combined African table.

Super Rugby resumes on July 1 after three-test series between Australia and England, New Zealand and Wales and South Africa and Ireland.

As it stands, the Crusaders, Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes would qualify for the finals out of New Zealand; the Brumbies would progress from Australia and the Lions, Stormers and Sharks would claim the three spots available from South Africa.

The four conference leaders - the Crusaders, Brumbies, Lions and Stormers - would enjoy home advantage. That ensures one quarterfinal will be played in New Zealand, one in Australia and two in South Africa.

The weighting of the playoffs in favor of South African teams continues to be contentious in New Zealand which faces the prospect of having three teams in playoffs away from home despite finishing higher on a combined table than the quarterfinal hosts.

On the current overall table, all four New Zealand teams are placed ahead of the Brumbies and Stormers, who may earn home playoff advantage as conference leaders.

“There's going to be four quarterfinals and two of them are going to be in Africa,” Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said. “Considering they've got six teams and half those games are going to be there. I guess they put a lot of money into it, so that's the way it is.

“In the end, we've known about the comp. It means if you don't win your conference, you're traveling.”

The New Zealand teams occupy four of the top five placings on the table but the performances of the Waratahs in beating the Chiefs and the Lions in inflicting the first home defeat of the season on the Bulls have shown the top Australian and South African teams are strong.

The Lions, with matches remaining against the Sharks, Kings and Jaguares, are likely to retain top place in South Africa and might even challenge for first place on the combined table.

The Crusaders have a tougher finish to the regular season with matches against the Chiefs, to be played in Fiji when the tournament resumes, Melbourne and Hurricanes.

The Brumbies finish against Queensland, the Blues and Western Force while the Chiefs must still face the Crusaders, Queensland and Highlanders.

The Crusaders' win over the Blues at Auckland's Eden Park was hard-fought. They trailed 18-13 with 20 minutes remaining before sealing the match with a try to scrumhalf Andy Ellis and the sound goalkicking of flyhalf Richie Mo'unga.

Crusaders replacement David Havili was cited after the match for striking a Blues player while Hitoshi Ono of the Sunwolves has also been cited for a possible head butt.

On Sunday, Melbourne winger Sefa Naivalu scored a pair of second-half tries to lead the Rebels to a 27-22 win over the Perth-based Western Force, ending a three-match losing streak and concluding the 12th round.

ANA-AP

Original source: Crusaders on top as Super Rugby takes a break

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