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Sydney – The Coastal Sharks maintained their five-point break at the top of Super Rugby as the Australian and New Zealand conferences took on a new look this weekend.
The South African side extended their winning streak over the Auckland Blues to 10 straight games with a gutsy 29-23 win at North Harbour stadium.
It capped a successful Australasian tour for Jake White’s men, bagging three of their four matches on the road to be in a strong position ahead of July’s playoffs.
While the Sharks continued their winning ways, the ACT Brumbies and back-to-back champions Waikato Chiefs suffered big losses to relinquish top spot of their respective conferences.
The New South Wales Waratahs assumed the Australian conference lead and were second overall following their six-try, 41-19 romp over the Rebels in Melbourne.
Seven-time Super Rugby champions the Canterbury Crusaders climbed to third overall and head the New Zealand conference after a thrilling 32-30 win over the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin.
The Brumbies paid a high price for their 44-23 loss to the Northern Bulls in Pretoria, slipping to third in the Australian conference and out of the top six play-off positions at seventh overall.
The Chiefs dived from third to eighth, sitting at fourth in the New Zealand rankings after a 45-8 thrashing by the Wellington Hurricanes.
The Western Force leapfrogged the Brumbies into second in the Australian conference and fourth overall with a 29-19 win over South Africa’s Golden Lions in Perth.
In the weekend’s remaining game, the Western Stormers pounded the Central Cheetahs 33-0 in Cape Town, while the bottom-placed Queensland Reds had a bye.
In Auckland, the Sharks led throughout but had to call on their renowned defence to stave off the Blues after receiving two yellow cards in the second half of a tight game that featured two tries apiece.
They are now in pole position as the Super 15 competition heads into a break next week for the international season, achieving the rare feat of winning three of four matches on the road in Australasia.
The Waratahs, with their Wallaby backs running the show, powered to a bonus-point victory over the Rebels.
It was the third consecutive game that the Waratahs have scored five tries or more as they continue their climb up the Super 15 standings.
The Crusaders recovered from their first loss at home to the Sharks last week to snatch a desperate victory over the Highlanders in a frenetic South Island derby.
The outcome of the match hinged on a video replay after Highlanders wing Patrick Osborne dived over in an Israel Dagg tackle after the final siren.
After multiple replays, the television match official ruled the ball had touched the sideline and tryline simultaneously and the try was disallowed, leaving the Crusaders elated and the Highlanders distraught.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter kicked 22 points as the Bulls kept alive hopes of reaching the playoffs with a bonus-point triumph over the Brumbies.
Victory for the South Africans avenged a semi-finals loss to the Australians last season.
The Hurricanes overpowered the Chiefs, with their long-range specialists running in six tries for a bonus-point win in a supreme show of counter-attacking.
The victory propelled Wellington up the tightly packed leader board, where only four points separate the second-placed Waratahs and now-eighth Chiefs.
The Force stayed on track for a maiden finals appearance in Super 15 rugby with a club record eighth win for the season over the Lions, rebounding from a loss to the Stormers the previous weekend.
The Stormers won successive matches for the first time this season by outplaying the Cheetahs in awful conditions. – Sapa-AFP