Sydney – The Sharks are the team to beat in this year's Super Rugby contest after a gutsy history-making win in New Zealand to go five points clear this weekend.
The South African pacesetters beat the seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders 30-25 for the first time in Christchurch in the 18 years of Super Rugby.
Jake White's team did it with 14 men for 65 minutes and outscored the Crusaders three tries to one in a courageous performance.
The Durban-based Sharks are five points clear of the ACT Brumbies, who lost in South Africa, and defending champions Waikato Chiefs, who had a bye this weekend.
The Brumbies went down 27-21 to the lowly Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, emerging with a losing bonus point to shade the Chiefs on points differential in second spot.
The Otago Highlanders moved into outright fourth and a point behind the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference with a see-sawing 18-16 derby win over the Hurricanes in Wellington.
Australia's Western Force slipped to sixth overall and four points adrift of the Brumbies in the Australian conference following a 24-8 defeat to the struggling Western Stormers in Cape Town.
The New South Wales Waratahs get the chance to return to the play-off positions later Sunday against the Golden Lions in Sydney.
Queensland Reds, the champions three years ago, slumped to the bottom of the standings after a controversial 30-27 loss at home to the Melbourne Rebels which felled Wallaby star Quade Cooper with a shoulder injury.
The Sharks were jubilant at the full-time whistle after defying the odds to down the in-form Crusaders, coming off five straight wins.
While it their first win in Christchurch it was also the first time any South African side has won away to the Crusaders since 2001.
The Sharks were undermanned for 65 minutes after Jean Deysel was red-carded and sank to 13 men for 10 minutes when Willem Alberts was sent to the sin-bin.
Despite the disciplinary lapses they overcame their numerical disadvantage in a tense clash that saw the lead switch seven times.
The winning points came from a try to replacement hooker Kyle Cooper with five minutes remaining.
In Bloemfontein, fly-half Johan Goosen was the 22-point star as the Cheetahs upset the Brumbies.
Springbok Goosen scored a try and kicked a conversion, four penalties and a drop goal for a 121-point season tally.
The Highlanders stole home over the Hurricanes after both sides worked each other to a standstill in Wellington.
The Canes scored the only try in a tense, high-stakes battle, with the Highlanders relying on the boot of fly-half Hayden Parker to get them home with five penalties and a match-winning drop goal.
The Stormers belied their bottom place in the standings with a convincing victory over the high-flying Force.
The South Africans applied relentless first-half pressure to build a 17-3 half-time lead and kept the Australians tryless until nine minutes from time.
The Rebels won their first-ever Super Rugby match over the Reds with a controversial last-minute penalty goal.
It marked six consecutive losses for the Queenslanders after fullback Jason Woodward kicked a 79th-minute penalty off a red card incident.
Reds replacement forward Ed O'Donoghue was sent off following the intervention of the video referee for an incident with Rebels skipper Scott Higginbotham.
Television replays appeared to show O'Donoghue running his fingers over Higginbotham's eyes as both players wrestled with each other on the ground.
Reds skipper James Horwill didn't mince words after the game, saying his team was “robbed by a stupid refereeing decision.”
Adding to the Reds' woes was the likely loss of their Wallaby fly-half Quade Cooper for up to six weeks with a dislocated left shoulder.
Apart from the Chiefs, the Auckland Blues and Northern Bulls also had weekend byes. – Sapa-AFP