By STEVE McMORRAN
2014-03-02 06:22 AM
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- Propelled by the try-scoring brilliance of Wallabies fullback Israel Folau, the New South Wales Waratahs beat bitter interstate rivals the Queensland Reds 32-5 to advance their most-promising Super Rugby campaign of recent years with a second straight bonus-point victory on Saturday.
Folau followed his hat trick in the 43-21 opening win over the Western Force with a double as the Waratahs posted their largest win over the Reds in Super Rugby derbies.
Tries by Peter Betham and Kurtley Beale, who was the midfield engineer of the Waratahs' backline brilliance, ensured the Waratahs took maximum points from their first two matches to sit atop the championship table.
Only they, the Chiefs, Sharks and Melbourne Rebels remained unbeaten, after seven started the round without a defeat.
Defending champions the Chiefs ground out a tough, 21-19 win over the Highlanders which followed their 18-10 first-up win over the Crusaders.
The Durban-based Sharks won matches in each of the tournament's first two weekends and remained at the top of the South African conference after a third-round bye.
Also in South Africa, the newly promoted Lions suffered their first loss in three games, going down 25-17 to three-time champions the Bulls who won for the first time in three games.
Former champions the ACT Brumbies in Australia and the Auckland-based Blues posted their first wins after opening-round losses. The Brumbies beat the Western Force 27-14 in Perth in a match in which Wallabies Hugh McMenamin, Pat McCabe and David Pocock suffered injuries.
The Blues turned around a first-round loss to the Dunedin-based Highlanders with a 35-24 win over the Christchurch-based Crusaders, consigning the seven-time champions to their second straight loss.
The Rebels, who had to wait until the third round to open their season, lived up to their preseason promise with a 35-14 win over the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs while the Cape Town-based Stormers also offset a first-up loss with a 19-18 win over the Hurricanes. The Wellington-based Hurricanes are winless after two matches.
The striking performance of the third round came from the Waratahs, who overcame soggy underfoot conditions to run four tries past the Reds, lifting their tally for the season to 10. They have scored 75 points and conceded 26 in an emphatic opening to a season in which they will attempt to reach the playoffs for the first time in four years.
The Waratahs' recent seasons have been bogged in mediocrity -- they finished ninth last year, 11th in 2012 and fifth in 2011 after reaching the semifinals in 2010. Coach Michael Cheika has given the Waratahs backs license to attack and, behind a forward pack which is sound at set-pieces and mobile in the loose, they have found potent form.
Beale, tranferred to Sydney from Melbourne where his career began to founder in inconsistent form and off-field controversy, has regained his confidence and apparent love of the game. He had a hand in all four of the Waratahs' tries, scoring the last when he caught a sluggish, retreating defense napping at a tapped penalty.
Folau scored the first two tries of the match -- following his three against the Force -- to give the Waratahs an early boost which fortified their confidence in their attacking policy.
Cheika said Folau was a good player who was "blending into the team's fabric. He knows where to be and he's getting even more involved in the line."
The Blues also showed a sharp attacking edge in their bonus-point win over the Crusaders. They trailed 17-3 before unleashing a burst of four tries in 13 minutes on either side of halftime which stopped the Crusaders in their tracks.
The Crusaders' second loss came at an additional cost as All Blacks captain Richie McCaw suffered a broken thumb and was likely to be out of action for up to eight weeks.
McMenamin and McCabe suffered neck injuries during the Brumbies' hard-fought win over the Force, who are 0-2 after two matches.
McCabe, who was in only his second match back after breaking his neck while playing against the British and Irish Lions last year, left the field in the first half and was taken to hospital for scans. McMenamin, who missed the second half of last season after a shoulder reconstruction, was carried from the field in the 36th minute.
Pocock injured his reconstructed left knee in the 71st but was able to limp to the bench.