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All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett has escaped further punishment after receiving a red card in the Wellington Hurricanes’ Super Rugby win over NSW Waratahs last week.
The current World Rugby player of the year was sent off late in the match after receiving two yellow cards for deliberately knocking down the ball during Waratahs’ attacks.
The SANZAAR judiciary said it took Barrett’s exemplary disciplinary record into account before clearing him to play against the Auckland Blues this weekend.
“The player is therefore free to play and will serve no suspension,” it said in a ruling issued late Monday.
Barrett argued after the match that he was trying to intercept the ball but poor technique meant he knocked it down, rather than taking possession.
Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu was banned for one week after earning a yellow card in the same match for a dangerous tackle.
The judiciary said he received the suspension because it was his third yellow this season for similar offences.
Defending champions the Otago Highlanders slumped to a 33-31 loss against the unfancied Auckland Blues as the newly expanded Super Rugby competition opened with a shock result on Friday.
The Blues, now coached by All Blacks legend Tana Umaga, showed the Highlanders they could not expect to fly under the radar to the title like last year.
In an entertaining match in which the lead changed hands four times, the Highlanders stage a late comeback but lacked the intensity of their New Zealand rivals.
“They played really well and deserved to win, we’ve got to do better,” said captain Ben Smith, whose two-try effort made him the Highlanders’ stand-out player.
This year’s revamped, 18-team competition is expanding its horizons with new sides from Japan and Argentina, but the Blues are intent on turning back the clock to the days when they were a genuine force.
They won the last of their three titles in 2003 but have now sent a message that under Umaga they are a far more potent threat than the side that finished second last in 2015.
“We had a big emphasis on starting well and you can’t get much bigger than beating the defending champions,” said fly-half Ihaia West, who landed seven kicks to play a major part in the win.
“We’ve got a pretty young squad this year, lots of new faces and they gave it their all.”
The Blues showed attacking intent early, moving the ball around and earning a penalty, only for West to send his kick wide.
It fell to Smith to score the first points of the season, with the All Blacks fullback stretching out from a tackle to plant the ball over the tryline.
West made amends for his missed penalty when he set up Melani Nanai’s try in the 17th minute by chipping to Tevita Li, who released the winger for his score.
Powerful young flanker Blake Gibson scored the Blues’ second five-pointer in the 25th minute, bulldozing past four defenders.
Debutant centre Teihorangi Walden hit back immediately for the Highlanders, slipping through a hole in the defence, before Waisake Naholo sent them into the break 24-20 up.
After a helter-skelter first half, the second began as an arm wrestle, with two Blues penalties putting the Aucklanders ahead 26-24 with 20 minutes to go.
Patrick Tuipulotu then sealed it with the Blues’ third try just after Highlander Patrick Osborne was sin binned.
But the final minutes were tense after Smith gave the Highlanders hope with a converted try from a move that began deep within his own half to make it 33-31.
“It’s tough, it’s never not tough,” Smith said as he digested the loss.
The Northern Bulls squandered a chance to return to the top of the South African Super 15 conference with a 23-18 upset loss to the Auckland Blues on Friday.
The Bulls dominated territory and possession but could not convert it into points against the unfancied Blues, denting their chances of making the play-offs.
Two tries to centre Jan Serfontein were not enough in a tight match where the lead changed five times but the bulk of chances fell to the South Africans.
“We made too many mistakes,” captain Pierre Spies said, adding that the Bulls were determined to bounce back on a tough road trip featuring the Chiefs, Brumbies and Rebels.
The Eden Park match was a perfect opportunity for the Bulls to leapfrog the inactive Stormers in the South African conference.
But they will be lucky to retain the overall sixth spot by the end of the round, with the Waratahs, Lions and Crusaders all within striking distance.
For the Blues, whose finals hopes are long gone, the win salvaged some pride amid a dismal season and retained their unbeaten record at Eden Park this year.
“We’ve had our backs against the wall for most of the year and to see the boys come out with a performance like this shows we’ve got a real strong backbone,” Keven Mealamu said.
The Bulls exerted immense pressure from the outset through their lineout drive, creating two clear chances in the first five minutes.
The first was disallowed when they were held up over the tryline and the second was ruled out due to obstruction in the lead up.
The home side were lucky to be level pegging at 3-3 before Lolagi Visinia sent them ahead with a spectacular individual try.
The Blues fullback picked up a clearing kick from Handre Pollard near the half-way line and raced past four defenders to score between the posts.
The Bulls hit back through Serfontein after Pollard found a gap and offloaded to the centre as he stormed towards the line at full pace.
Yet the Pretoria-based side went into the break down 16-13, despite enjoying 72 percent of territory and 58 percent of possession in the first 40 minutes.
They were less wasteful after the re-start, breaking down the left wing at lighting speed as the ball passed through six pairs of hands for Serfontein to get his second try.
But they were forced into desperate defending as the Blues regrouped, eventually conceding when George Moala powered over.
Down 23-18 in the final minutes, the Bulls worked the ball into a good attacking position but threw away their momentum, and the game, through a needless penalty.
The Canterbury Crusaders snapped a two-match losing streak to beat the Auckland Blues 29-15 on Saturday, giving some hope to their faltering Super Rugby campaign.
The Crusaders chalked up their fifth win in 10 matches this season and earned a vital bonus point for scoring four tries to move into the top half table despite playing the last quarter of the match without Richie McCaw.
The All Blacks captain was taken from the field for a concussion test after a heavy head knock while tackling Auckland fullback Lolagi Visinia.
The 33-year-old McCaw has struggled to produce his best this season, triggering concerns in rugby-mad New Zealand about his place in the World Cup team.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has dismissed suggestions McCaw is losing his edge but his every move is being scrutinised with the World Cup kicking off in less than five months.
The Crusaders were already safely ahead of the Blues when McCaw left the field in Christchurch.
The seven-times Super champions raced to a 14-0 lead after scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond scored in the first minute then loose forward Jordan Taufua went over in the 16th.
The Blues, second-last in the standings with just one victory all season, cut the deficit to 17-10 at halftime when Francis Saili scored.
However, the Crusaders regained control in the second half when Tom Taylor scored two minutes after the restart and Codie Taylor secured the home team’s bonus point with a fourth touchdown.
“We definitely had to show a better performance out there,” Crusaders skipper Kieran Read said.
“It wasn’t perfect but it was certainly a step up from the last two weeks.”