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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Highlanders, Crusaders, Chiefs win in Super Rugby

New Zealand's Crusaders overwhelmed South Africa's Stormers 57-24 to stretch their winning start to Super Rugby to eight matches on Saturday.

The New Zealand teams, who will welcome the British and Irish Lions in June, enjoyed another clean sweep.

The Dunedin-based Highlanders ran through Japan's Sunwolves 40-15, and the Hamilton-based Chiefs eked out a scratchy 16-7 win over the Western Force in Perth.

The Hurricanes beat the ACT Brumbies on Friday, and the Auckland-based Blues had a bye.

The Crusaders have made an 8-0 start to the season for only the third time - having previously done so on the way to championships in 2002 and 2006 - and remain unbeaten in 10 home matches against the Stormers.

After the Stormers managed only a penalty from early dominance, winger George Bridge scored a hat trick of tries in a 20-minute spell in which the Crusaders showed sublime handling and passing skills.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who played only 40 minutes before being subbed, also scored two tries, and although the Stormers came back strongly in the second half, the Crusaders added three further tries to post their highest score against the Stormers.

"It was great to see the boys using their heads and playing smart," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said.

Defeat for the Stormers allowed the Bulls to narrow the gap at the top of the Africa 1 conference, as they came back to beat the Cheetahs 20-14 in Pretoria.

Although the Cheetahs opened the scoring through Paul Schoeman in just the fifth minute and led 11-3 at halftime, Jacques Potgieter hit back for the home side and a well-crafted counterattack saw Jesse Kriel score the winning try with seven minutes remaining.

The result cut the Stormers' conference lead over the second-placed Bulls to 12 points, while the Cheetahs sit four points back in third.

The Sharks lost ground to the Lions in the Africa 2 conference when they were held to 9-9 by the Melbourne Rebels in a dismal game in Durban.

Both teams had a player sent off: Sharks centre Andre Esterhuizen received a straight red card for a dangerous tackle after 17 minutes, and Rebels captain Nic Stirzaker was issued a second yellow card with 10 minutes remaining.

The Sharks trail the Lions, who pipped Argentina's Jaguares 24-21 on Friday, by eight points.

The Rebels remain bottom of the Australian conference with one win from their seven matches.

Earlier, centre Matt Faddes scored two second-half tries to help the Highlanders see off the Sunwolves.

Faddes scored immediately after halftime from a brilliant angled run and again in the 50th from an intercept to give the Highlanders a 35-3 lead and put the match beyond doubt. Even so, the Sunwolves proved competitive for long periods, holding at least even shares of possession in both halves.

The Chiefs needed three penalties from Aaron Cruden, the only points of the second half, to subdue the Force after the teams were 7-7 at halftime.

Liam Messam scored an early try for the Chiefs and they seemed set to dominate but Matt Hodgson replied with a try from a lineout drive for the Force, who defended stoutly.

Cruden's three penalties after halftime clinched the Chiefs' win and denied the Force a valuable bonus point. The Chiefs also had three tries disallowed in a match which was spoiled by handling errors.

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