Canterbury Crusaders 41 Bulls 19
The Canterbury Crusaders got their Super 15 campaign up and running with a comprehensive 41-19 win over the Bulls in Christchurch.
After losing their opening two matches, things finally clicked for the seven-time champions as they turned on the style against the high-flying Bulls, scoring six tries in their first home match of the season.
Robbie Fruean, Kieran Read, Johnny McNicholl and Tom Marshall secured a four-try bonus point by the 45th minute before prop Wyatt Crockett and Willi Heinz added to the tally.
"The intent was there and it showed that, when we get it right, we can be really dangerous," Read said.
The Bulls touched down only once near the end through Ryan Stegmann, with their other points coming from the boot of Morne Steyn.
The Bulls were fresh off their first win at Eden Park and the prospect of losing their opening three games for the first time since 1996 seemed to unnerve the Crusaders, with Fruean twice dropping a simple pass under relatively pressure.
The centre made amends in the best possible style, though.
An 11-phase move during which Read and the Whitelock brothers, Sam and George, all made good ground ended with the centre collecting a simple pass and crossing unopposed.
Fruean punched the ball and roared as the frustration fell away, Carter adding the extras for a 10-3 lead.
That got the Crusaders rolling and the sustained pressure ended with Read shoving his way over the line with assistance from several team-mates. He landed on his back and lifted the ball up over his head to ground it behind him.
Steyn got six points back with a pair of penalties but the Crusaders responded in style, keeping possession for almost three minutes as the half-time hooter blew.
They worked it forward through multiple phases and pounding the Bulls' line under the posts before taking it wide when space emerged, allowing Johnny McNicholl to cross on the left wing.
Carter's conversion made it 22-9 at the interval and, after Steyn slotted his fourth penalty, Mashall lit up the match with a try of individual skill and awareness.
The wing received the ball on halfway following a turnover, dummied his way through a gap in the line, broke the tackle of the last man and accelerated to the line for his fourth Super Rugby try.
Marshall laid the platform for the fifth try with a burst up-field and Crockett showed the ball to Zane Kirchner as though he was going to pass, only to gather it in, put his head down and charge through two men over the line.
It looked all over but a rolling maul took the Bulls to within striking distance and Stegmann broke off to carry the ball over the line. Steyn's conversion took the visitors to within 15 points but Heinz crossed late on to round off the scoring.
Western Force 19 Queensland Reds 12
The Western Force dealt the Queensland Reds a surprise home defeat on Saturday, overpowering the 2011 champions for a 19-12 Super Rugby win in Brisbane.
The Reds, chasing a 23rd win from 26 home matches, never came close to their fluent best in a hard-fought encounter with Quade Cooper below par and handling errors throughout the team in the face of some ferocious pressure.
Alfi Mafi scored the only try and Sias Ebersohn kicked 14 points for the Perth outfit, who started the match next to last in the overall standings and were unlucky not to clinch their first win of the season by a bigger margin.
"We're bitterly disappointed with that performance," said Reds captain Will Genia, who made his comeback from a knee injury.
"It's very poor. We got a little possession there but we got carried over there trying to do silly things and we got what we deserved."
There could have been more tries for the visitors but for some valiant defending by the Reds and some bad luck for the Force, who have now won at all four of their Australian Super Rugby rivals.
There was some good news for the Reds, however, with the return of scrum-half Genia after more than six months out following knee reconstruction.
After David Pocock and Berrick Barnes were injured on successive weekends, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans would also have been pleased to see Genia come through 40 minutes of rugby unscathed.
The game had mostly been a scrappy contest of handling errors and kicking, with the Reds winning 9-6, until Force scrum-half Alby Mathewson broke artfully in midfield.
Dropping his shoulder and surging into space, Mathewson offloaded to Mafi, who headed diagonally to the left corner and, although he was tagged by the chasing Genia, managed to ground in the corner.
Ebersohn slotted the conversion from out wide and the Reds could respond only with Cooper's fourth penalty before the break.
The Force looked on course for another try after the interval as they rumbled toward the line but lost the chance when hooker Nathan Charles momentarily lost his grip on the back of the maul and was whistled by referee Angus Gardner for rejoining.
With the Reds down to 14 men for Ed Quirk's yellow card for a shoulder barge, Force replacement Solomoni Rasolea thought he had scored after chasing and grounding a loose ball, but the TV official ruled that he had lost control for an instant while rolling toward the line.
The Force camped deep in Queensland territory for long periods and Ebersohn extended the lead to seven points with his fourth penalty after James Slipper was penalised at the scrum.