The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Derby upsets mean tough starts for favoured teams in Super Rugby

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand - The first full round of Super Rugby offered up a number of surprises as some teams believed to be title contenders struggled, revealing a competition that may be stronger across the board than at any time in recent seasons.

The Crusaders and Blues in New Zealand and the Stormers in South Africa, all touted as potential champions, opened their campaigns with defeats; South Africa's Sharks and Lions won their second straight games, and the defending champion Chiefs and the Queensland Reds won thrilling derbies.

The circumstances of the Chiefs' 18-10 win over the Crusaders and the Reds' 27-17 win over the ACT Brumbies were incredibly similar. Both led at halftime then absorbed enormous defensive pressure throughout the second half before clinching wins with late tries.

The Sharks lead the tournament with nine points after winning their first two games, a bonus point ahead of the newly-promoted Lions, who shocked the Stormers 34-10.

The Highlanders, Cheetahs and Waratahs also picked up their first wins.

The Chiefs were depleted by injuries and facing a Crusaders side led at home by All Blacks captain Richie McCaw. They seized the lead after nine minutes with a try to former Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean, who is making a comeback after his second heart surgery, and led for the rest of the match, despite the Crusaders' desperate efforts to break down their defence.

The Crusaders closed to 11-10 with seven minutes remaining, but an intercept try to rookie James Lowe in the last minute clinched the Chiefs' win. Aaron Cruden's sideline conversion denied the Crusaders the consolation of a bonus point.

"It was incredibly gutsy," Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said. "We gave away far too many penalties and it gave them field position and opportunities to kick for goal."

The Reds showed the same degree of defensive strength against the Brumbies. Tries to Lachie Turner and fullback Aidan Toua gave them a 17-9 lead at halftime before Brumbies fullback Jesse Mogg cut the lead to 20-17 with 23 minutes remaining.

Mogg then dropped a kick in front of his own goal line in the 79th minute, allowing Chris Feauai-Sautia to score the try that sealed the win.

"We're pleased we stuck to the game plan," Reds captain James Horwill said. "There were times in that second half we were our own worst enemies, giving away silly penalties and making mistakes at our end. But it was pleasing that we stuck to what we wanted to do and got the result we were looking for."

The Blues were considered possible title contenders after bolstering their roster between seasons, but they launched their campaign with a loss to the Highlanders. Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Ben Smith scored tries to give the Highlanders a 29-21 win.

The Lions surprised again after their promotion back to Super Rugby with a thumping 34-10 win over the Stormers, with flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff kicking three dropped goals in his 29 points.

Centre Stefan Watermeyer scored a try in the second minute before Boshoff took over with a conversion, three drops and six penalties.

The Sharks continued their strong start under new coach Jake White with a hard-fought 27-9 win over New Zealand's Hurricanes.

The Durban-based Sharks had early tries from Springboks Willem Alberts and Lwazi Mvovo, but didn't break completely clear of the Hurricanes until wing Mvovo's intercept try with just over 15 minutes to go.

The New South Wales Waratahs got three tries from Israel Folau, including one in the opening minute Sunday, to beat the Western Force 43-21. They also got a four-try bonus point, their first in almost two years.

Folau, who also scored in the 22nd and 65th minutes, became only the eighth Waratah to score a Super Rugby hat trick.

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