Sydney – The Sharks have a five-point breathing space at the top of Super Rugby after an opening win on their crucial Australasian tour as the ACT Brumbies and Wellington Hurricanes stumbled this weekend.
The Durban-based Sharks became the first South African team to win on tour this season with a 22-16 victory over the Melbourne Rebels to lead the southern hemisphere provincial series after 12 rounds.
Jake White's Sharks got full value for their Melbourne win with title rivals the Brumbies and Hurricanes losing this weekend.
Last year's finalists the Brumbies were thumped by the rejuvenated Canterbury Crusaders 40-20 in Christchurch for their third defeat of the season.
The Hurricanes slipped from first to third in the New Zealand conference when they went down 39-30 to the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.
Defending champions Waikato Chiefs are back on top of their national conference after defeating South Africa's Golden Lions 38-8 in Hamilton to move to third overall.
The Waratahs are fourth on the overall standings, two points ahead of the Western Force who had a bye, while the Crusaders broke into the top-six playoff positions with their dominant win over the Brumbies.
The Otago Highlanders joined the Crusaders and Hurricanes on 26
points after picking up two bonus points in their 29-28 loss to the Western Stormers in Cape Town.
The Auckland Blues demolished the fading Queensland Reds 44-14
to secure a bonus-point win and keep their play-off hopes alive at Eden Park, while the Northern Bulls edged out the Central Cheetahs 26-21 in their South African derby in Pretoria.
The Sharks were made to work for their win over the Rebels and scored their only try off a counter-attack through Springbok winger JP Pietersen midway through the second half to hang on for victory.
The Rebels strung together 14 phases in stoppage time to go after the clinching converted try, but the Sharks denied them with a turnover inside their quarter.
The Sharks were indebted to another flawless goalkicking performance from Springbok back Frans Steyn, with five penalties and a conversion from six attempts.
It was a crucial win for the Sharks, who face a tough Australasian tour schedule against the Brumbies, Crusaders and Blues over the next three weeks.
A dominant forward pack allowed the Crusaders to stretch their winning run to four games with their comprehensive win over the Brumbies.
The Crusaders' physicality humbled the leading Australian side allowing fly-half Colin Slade to land seven penalties in a match where tries were scarce.
The Chiefs enjoyed a bonus point win in their victory over the Johannesburg-based Lions.
Coach Dave Rennie made 14 changes to his matchday squad and although they scored six tries it was not a complete performance from the Chiefs who at times struggled to breach the Lions' defence.
The Waratahs ended the Hurricanes' winning run with an exhilarating victory in Sydney.
The Waratahs played one of their best matches of the season to deny the Hurricanes five tries to three in a 69-point breathless thriller to get their season back on track.
The Hurricanes had been the competition's form team, winning their previous four games, and looked set to continue on their winning way when they exploded to a 24-7 lead after 27 minutes.
But the home side fought back to go in at half-time level at 24-all and were never headed in the second half, scoring two more tries.
The Stormers abandoned their traditional kicking game in favour of running the ball to earn a bonus-point victory over the Highlanders at Newlands.
It was only the third win for the South Africans in 10 matches this season – lifting them off the bottom – and their first four-try haul of the campaign.
In Auckland, the Blues scored five tries in a dominant performance, leading Queensland 34-0 early in the second half before the 2011 Super Rugby champions added two converted tries.
Victory at Loftus Versfeld kept the three-time former champion Bulls 10th on the standings. – Sapa-AFP