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14-man Blues beat Stormers, Rebels rule Reds in Super Rugby

March 30, 2019

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — After being immersed in the aftermath of tragedy for two weeks, Sonny Bill Williams came off the bench to create a try which helped seal a 24-9 win by the 14-man Blues over the Stormers in Super Rugby on Saturday.

All Blacks center Williams, who converted to Islam a decade ago, has spent the past two weeks in Christchurch fundraising and consoling members of the city’s Islamic community after the March 15 shootings at two mosques which left 50 dead.

He attended the national memorial service in Christchurch on Friday and then, after missing last weekend’s match against the Highlanders, came back to take his place again in the Blues team that faced the Cape Town-based Stormers.

Williams took to the field in the second half as a replacement at center for Ma’a Nonu and made an immediate impact on a tight match which had been locked at 10-9 in the Blues’ favor for 16 minutes.

He crashed onto a pass in midfield in the 62nd, kept his feet as he broke through two tackles, then handed off to flyhalf Otere Black who scored under the posts and converted the try to give the Blues an eight-point buffer.

Winger Rieko Ioane made the game safer with a late try, his seventh in his last three games.

Blues winger Tanielu Tele’a scored a first-half try but was sent off in the second half for a dangerous tackle.

The Blues held on with 14 men for 11 minutes to post three wins in a row for the first time in four years.

“It was pretty tough,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said. “We knew the challenge we had in front of us with a strong, physical Stormers forward pack and I’m just proud of the way the boys matched that.”

The victory put the Blues in the playoff places. The Blues won the first two Super Rugby tournaments in 1996 and 1997 but their last title was in 2003 and they haven’t reached the playoffs since 2011.

The Crusaders, the two-time defending champions, are still the overall leaders.

There were two more red cards as the Bulls edged the Sharks 19-16 in the South African derby. Hookers Akker van der Merwe and Schalk Brits were sent off for landing punches on each other in a tussle at a ruck early in the second half.

The defining factor in the game was Bulls flyhalf Handre Pollard’s boot, though, as he kicked 14 points, including a 79th-minute penalty that clinched victory for the visitors in Durban. Pollard was given the chance when the Bulls won a decisive scrum penalty on a Sharks feed with the clock ticking down.

The Bulls led 6-3 at halftime but the Sharks had much better momentum in the second half, scoring straight from the kickoff through loose forward Daniel du Preez. Jesse Kriel replied for the Bulls but the Sharks were rewarded for their pressure with a 70th-minute try by muscular center Andre Esterhuizen.

Sharks flyhalf Robert du Preez failed with the conversion, one of a number of misses by him that proved crucial.

Flyhalf Quade Cooper returned to haunt his former team, the Queensland Reds, kicking two penalties and creating two tries for winger Jack Maddocks as the Melbourne Rebels won 32-13 at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

Cooper played 118 Super Rugby matches for Queensland until 2017 when new Reds coach Brad Thorn cut him from his squad. The former Wallabies No. 10 made a comeback through club rugby before finding a new home at the Rebels.

Cooper took only two minutes to make a mark on Saturday’s match with a penalty. He created a try for Maddocks with a pinpoint cross-field kick which gave the Rebels an 11-6 lead at halftime.

In the second half Cooper instigated a kick and chase from a dropped Reds pass which made Maddocks’ second try, taking the winger to the top of the Super Rugby try-scorers’ list this season.

The Reds couldn’t keep their hands on the ball until the 74th minute when they strung together phases and scored through prop Taniela Tupou. They also conceded too many easy yards around the fringes, including a last-minute try to Rob Leota which Cooper converted to finish with 12 points.

The Rebels move second overall behind the Crusaders with a fourth win in six games this season.

Scrumhalf Te Toiroa Tehuriorangi scored a try with three minutes remaining to give the Hamilton-based Chiefs a thrilling 30-27 over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

The Chiefs took a 17-6 lead to halftime after tries to Damian McKenzie and Tumua Manu. But the Jaguares, playing more expansively in the second half, rallied to tie the scores at 20-20 with a try to Pablo Matera in the 55th minute.

The Chiefs edged ahead 23-20 with a McKenzie penalty before the Jaguares seized their first lead with a try to Matias Orlando.

With time running out, the Chiefs worked a simple blindside move from a scrum for Tehuriorangi to score the decisive try.

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