ACT Brumbies stumble to open up the title race once again.
New Zealand’s Waikato Chiefs are on top of rugby’s Super 15 after frontrunners ACT Brumbies faltered for the second straight match and slipped to third place this weekend.
The defending champion Chiefs won their fourth successive game 17-12 over Kiwi rivals Wellington Hurricanes to lead the southern hemisphere provincial championship by two points.
South Africa’s triple champions Northern Bulls edged out the Brumbies for second spot with more wins this season after a bonus-point 35-18 win over Otago Highlanders in Pretoria.
The Brumbies relinquished a halftime lead to lose a brutal Australian derby 28-22 to the NSW Waratahs coming on top of their previous home loss to the Canterbury Crusaders.
Queensland Reds lost their chance to leapfrog the Brumbies to the top of the Australian conference after going down 27-13 to South Africa’s Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Seven-time winners the Crusaders moved menacingly into fifth spot after a dominant 23-3 derby win over the Auckland Blues, who slipped to sixth position on the overall standings.
The Coastal Sharks overcame a slow start to beat Australia’s Western Force 23-13 in Perth on the way home to South Africa, while the Melbourne Rebels celebrated their first victory over South African opposition with a rousing 30-21 win over the Western Stormers in Melbourne.
The Chiefs scored the only try in wet Wellington and produced a mighty defensive effort to smother a Hurricanes fightback to go top of the standings.
The Chiefs first win in Wellington since 2001 extended their lead in the New Zealand conference to six points over the Crusaders, while the Hurricanes now face an uphill struggle to make the play-offs.
A controversial try helped the Bulls to a bonus-point win over the Highlanders after centre JJ Engelbrecht’s pass appeared to go forward to wing Akona Ndungane, who scored from deep in his own half.
The South African television match official gave the nod to Ndungane after watching numerous replays of the Engelbrecht pass.
In Sydney, the Waratahs fought back from 13-6 down at halftime to overhaul Jake White’s frontrunners with three second-half tries to keep alive their playoff hopes with their third straight win.
But both sides lost key Wallaby players with injuries with Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau suffering a fractured right forearm and veteran Brumbies flanker George Smith nursing an injured left knee.
Playmaker Berrick Barnes proved influential coming off the bench at halftime to engineer the Waratahs’ victory with a try and having a hand in another while kicking two conversions and a penalty.
A brace of opportunist tries from scrum-half Piet van Zyl set up the Cheetahs for their important win over the Reds.
The Crusaders outmuscled the Blues to leapfrog their arch-rivals and claim second spot in the New Zealand conference.
The Crusaders scored two tries to nil, gaining momentum in front of a sell-out crowd to continue the Blues’ dismal record in Christchurch, where they have not won since 2004.
In Melbourne, the Rebels stormed home from 21-20 down with six minutes left to down the Stormers with a contentious penalty try ruling.
Scrum-half Nick Phipps was ruled to have been held back by Martin Bezuidenhout chasing after a kick ahead and the television match official recommended a penalty try as Phipps dived for the ball with Springbok winger Bryan Habana.
The Force dominated the early stages and led at halftime, but one second-half try to the Sharks was enough for them to win in Perth.
South Africa’s Southern Kings had the bye this weekend.