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WELLINGTON, New Zealand – The ACT Brumbies' winning start to Super Rugby ended at four matches when they were beaten 35-22 by the Stormers at Cape Town on Saturday, leaving the tournament with no unbeaten teams after six rounds.
The Brumbies' first loss away from home in eight matches trimmed their lead in the overall standings to two points from the Hamilton-based Chiefs and in the Australian conference to six points over the Queensland Reds.
The Stormers suppressed a second-half rally from the Brumbies with an intercept try to Gerhard van den Heever and, after starting the season with back-to-back losses, have beaten the Chiefs and Brumbies in their last two matches.
The Sharks beat the visiting Melbourne Rebels 64-7, inflicting the Australian team's heaviest defeat, to stay at the head of the South African conference while the Hamilton-based Chiefs beat the Highlanders 19-7 to lead the New Zealand conference and leave the Highlanders winless after four matches.
There were reports of disharmony among the Rebels following the match, with team officials investigating a possible fight between two players, although no names were released.
The Christchurch-based Crusaders beat the touring Southern Kings 55-19 in the first-ever meeting between the teams, and the Queensland Reds rebounded from last weekend's loss to the Western Force to beat the Bulls 23-19.
The Cheetahs beat the Western Force 19-10 for their third straight win on a four-match tour of New Zealand and Australia which leaves them well-placed to capitalize on a series of home games.
On Sunday, flyhalf Bernard Foley kicked a 35-meter penalty goal after the siren to give the New South Wales Waratahs a 30-27
comeback win over the Auckland-based Blues. Man-of-the-match Foley also scored a try and slotted three other second-half goals for a personal tally of 12 points.
The Waratahs trailed 24-10 at the break, their biggest halftime deficit at home since 2007. But they fought back to win their second match of the season and just their second from 14 matches dating back to last season.
The conference-leading Brumbies, Chiefs and Sharks have matching 4-1 records in a tournament in which only eight points separate the first six teams and in which only the Dunedin-based Highlanders have yet to win.
After winning one and losing one of their two matches in South Africa, the Brumbies return to their base at Canberra for matches against the Bulls and Kings - concluding a run of four-straight matches against South African teams.
The Brumbies took some heart from their ability to rally after trailing 22-10 at halftime, closing to 28-22 in the second half before Van den Heever's intercept try took the match away from them.
“I think we came up against a very desperate Stormers side and they played very well,” Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said. “They played very physical footy.
The Stormers, who led the tournament throughout the 2012 regular season, are 2-2 and one of the most rapidly improving sides. Injuries hit them hard and played a part in early losses to the Bulls and Sharks but they have looked far more formidable in beating the two tournament pacesetters in consecutive games.
The Sharks scored six second-half tries and a record 10 in all in a 64-7 demolition of the Rebels, the most tries the Sharks have scored in a Super Rugby game. It was a convincing rebound from last week's home humbling by the Brumbies.
The Cheetahs continued one of their best-ever starts to a season with a narrow win over the Force, who were playing their first home game. The Cheetahs picked up nine points with wins over New South Wales, the Highlanders and the Force.
Brothers George and Luke Whitelock shared four tries and expectant father Dan Carter kicked 16 points as the Crusaders, who matched the Stormers in starting the season with back-to-back losses, beat the Southern Kings 55-20 for their second straight win.
George Whitelock scored two tries in the first half and another five minutes from fulltime to push the Crusaders beyond 50 points. Luke Whitelock - the youngest of the four Whitelock brothers who play for the Crusaders including Adam and All Blacks lock Sam - came off the bench in the second half to score his first Super Rugby try.
Carter kicked five conversions and two penalties in a match in which the four goal kickers used by the teams had perfect records. All Blacks flyhalf Carter will miss the Crusaders' next two matches in South Africa while he awaits the birth of his first child.
Former Wallabies captain James Horwill ended a 308-day injury layoff when he led the Reds out against the Bulls. He played 40
minutes and had some nervous moments on the bench in the second half before the Brisbane-based Reds clinched their win.