x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Lam is left with the injury Blues

Pat Lam, the Auckland Blues coach, is anxiously awaiting news on three of his key players who limped off injured during the bonus-point win over Western Force.

Pat Lam, the Auckland Blues coach, is anxiously awaiting news on three of his key players who limped off injured during the bonus-point win over Western Force. Keven Mealamu, the All Black hooker, Benson Stanley and Taniela Moa failed to last the full 80 minutes in Perth and are all major doubts for the next game against the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday. Lam, though, will have been delighted at the way his side recovered from 11-0 down to beat the Force 25-19.

Tries from AJ Whalley and Drew Mitchell gave the home side the dream start but the Blues slowly moved through gears and claimed the bonus point with scores from Chris Lowrey, Justin Collins, Anthony Boric and Moa. A late try from Tom Hockings earned the Force a losing bonus point. The Canterbury Crusaders, the seven-times winners, were pushed all the way by the Waikato Chiefs yesterday as they began the defence of the trophy with a 19-13 victory in Christchurch.

Crusaders outscored the Chiefs by three tries to two but were far from convincing and missed the play-making skills of the injured Dan Carter. Tries from Casey Laulala and Tim Bateman gave them a 14-5 lead at the break A second-half score from Leila Masaga, who had set up Richard Kahui's first-half effort, put the game on a knife edge at 14-13 . Laulala eventually settled the match with his second score of the night but Todd Blackadder, the new coach of the Crusaders, knows his side will have to improve on this performance.

The all-South African affair at Ellis Park between the Johannesburg Lions and the Bloemfontein Cheetahs ended in a 34-28 win for the home side. Late drop goals from Andre Pretorius and Earl Rose sealed the win for the Lions who had been pegged back from 21-8 to 28-28 despite playing a quarter of the match with a man advantage after the Cheetah's pair of Heinrich Brussow and Meyer Bosman were sin binned.

An early burst of 19 unanswered points in as many minutes laid the platform for the 26-22 bonus-point win by the New South Wales Waratahs over the Hurricanes in Wellington. kaffleck@thenational.ae