CHINA – Richie Mo'unga booted the Canterbury Crusaders back to the top of the Super Rugby ladder with a 32-24 victory over the Auckland Blues while a last gasp drop goal saw Japan's Sunwolves down Western Stormers.
It was four tries apiece in wet conditions in Auckland where penalties made the difference as the Crusaders moved ahead of the Hurricanes while in Hong Kong Hayden Parker's late three pointer secured a 26-23 win for the Sunwolves.
The Crusaders put away the bumbling start that affected last week against the NSW Waratahs and were up 7-0 in the second minute with a try to George Bridge who created havoc down the left wing side throughout the game.
The impressive Crusaders pack kept the Blues on the defensive for most of the first half and delivered tries to Quinten Strange, Matt Todd and Bryn Hall as they raced to a 29-12 lead with the Blues points coming from tries to Matt Duffie and Rieko Ioane.
The Blues tightened their defence and focus in the second half to be rewarded with two tries by Michael Collins while the Crusaders, despite dominating territory, were limited to one penalty by Mo'unga, his second of the match.
"Conditions made it tough to play, so we wanted to make sure we played at the right end," Crusaders captain Matt Todd said.
"In the first half when we got down their end we took points.
"In the second half, not so much but credit to the Blues. You give them a sniff and they take it. But we're happy. The boys dug deep at the end and did enough for the win."
The last round of matches before the All Blacks squad is named for next month's series against France may prove costly for New Zealand with Ryan Crotty, Duffie and James Parsons all leaving the field with head knocks.
Hurricanes loose forward Vaea Fifita suffered a shoulder injury in their 38-34 win over the Queensland Reds on Friday.
Todd said the injuries were accepted as part of the game.
"They're physical, there's going to be casualties, you hope they're not too bad but you've got to have faith in your full squad and the guys who came on today all did their job," he said.
The Sunwolves have endured some torrid defeats since entering the competition in 2016, but they have now won twice in a row for the first time after last week's 63-28 rout of the Queensland Reds.
The win over the Stormers, their first away from Tokyo, also extinguished the faint play-off hopes of the South Africans, who are languishing at the foot of their conference.
"We created history today," said Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph.
"We've had some lean times, no doubt. But really we're headed in the right direction and I think that's really pleasing for the players."
In sweltering conditions for Hong Kong's first Super Rugby game, the Stormers were quickly into the lead and were ahead 17-10 at the break.
The Sunwolves lifted their game in the second half and Parker stroked them into the lead for the first time with a coolly struck penalty on 65 minutes.
In the closing 10 minutes, Stormers marksman Sarel Marais landed two penalties to regain the lead for the South Africans before the Sunwolves struck back with an 80th-minute penalty by Parker and then his post-siren drop goal.