Sydney – The Israel Folau-powered New South Wales Waratahs are the surprise early leaders of rugby's Super 15 after a commanding Australian derby win over the Queensland Reds this weekend.
Wallaby hotshot Folau scored his fifth try in two games as the Waratahs thumped the Reds 32-5 in their biggest win over their fierce interstate rivals.
The Michael Cheika-coached Waratahs are one point ahead of South Africa's Coastal Sharks with a further point to defending New Zealand champions Waikato Chiefs after three rounds of the southern hemisphere provincial series.
The Sharks had the weekend off, but the Chiefs needed a late try to snatch a 21-19 victory over the Otago Highlanders and go top of the New Zealand conference.
The Golden Lions' winning start to the season came to an end in a 25-17 loss to the three-time Super Rugby champions Northern Bulls in Pretoria.
Melbourne Rebels posted their biggest win in Super Rugby with a 35-14 victory over South Africa's Central Cheetahs to lie sixth overall.
The Auckland Blues staged a stunning comeback in a 35-24 win over the Canterbury Crusaders, leaving the seven-time champions at the foot of the ladder.
In the weekend's other matches, the ACT Brumbies were too strong for the hapless Western Force, winning 27-14 in Perth, and a late Deon Fourie push-over try set up a 19-18 win for South Africa's Western Stormers over Wellington Hurricanes at Newlands.
In Sydney, the revitalised Waratahs ended a five-game losing run against the Reds to humble their interstate rivals four tries to one with man-of-the-moment Folau scoring a try double after grabbing a hat-trick the previous week.
The 26-point margin eclipsed the Tahs' previous highest winning margin over the Reds of 24 in their 30-6 win three years ago.
They led 19-5 at half-time and kept the Reds scoreless in the second-half to remain unbeaten with two bonus-point wins this season under coach Cheika.
Charlie Ngatai scored in the corner with 11 minutes remaining to put the Chiefs back at the head of the pack, replacing the Highlanders who had led after a surprise bonus-point win over Auckland the previous week.
But there will be serious questions asked in the Chiefs camp as they struggled for possession and trailed 7-16 at half-time against a side with a reputation as the weakest New Zealand franchise.
Although the Chiefs led briefly in the first half it took until the second spell before they were able to gain a measure of control against the Highlanders, a squad containing mainly unknowns at Super rugby level.
The Melbourne Rebels, with skipper Scott Higginbotham in outstanding form, scored five tries to two for a bonus-point win over the Cheetahs.
It was Melbourne's first win in four meetings with the Cheetahs and an encouraging opening game to their Super 15 campaign.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter kicked 20 points as the Bulls shrugged off a dismal start to the season by defeating fellow South Africans Golden Lions in Pretoria.
It was the first victory for the Bulls after away losses against the Sharks and Cheetahs.
Auckland Blues looked down and out as they trailed 17-3 after 30 minutes but rattled the Crusaders with two tries either side of half-time to run away with the game and claim a bonus point.
The Brumbies, beaten by the Reds in their first outing of the season, bounced back to destroy the Force with a scintillating start, dominating the opening 25 minutes of the match. – Sapa-AFP