New Zealand sides the Auckland Blues and the Wellington Hurricanes supplanted South African rivals from the leading two positions at the top of rugby's Super 14 table with contrasting victories this weekend.
The Blues and Hurricanes capitalized on South Africa's Sharks' bye by restating New Zealand's supremacy in the southern hemisphere provincial series. Kiwi teams have won nine of the 11 past titles.
Auckland mixed flair and pace to overrun the Queensland Reds 38-13 at home for their third win in four outings on Saturday, while the second-placed Hurricanes left it to a last-minute try to secure an 11-10 win over the ACT Brumbies in Wellington on Friday.
Six-time champions the Canterbury Crusaders made it a big weekend for New Zealand teams with a 49-28 shredding of South Africa's Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
South Africa's Lions joined the Sharks in joint third spot with a last-minute penalty to deny the Western Force 25-24 in Perth on Saturday for their first-ever victory in Australia.
New Zealand's Otago Highlanders are level with the Crusaders, one point behind the Lions, after beating South Africa's Stormers 35-24 in Dunedin.
South Africa's Bulls claimed their second win of the season after Springbok winger Bryan Habana scored a last-gasp try to clinch a thrilling 30-27 win in Pretoria over the Waikato Chiefs from New Zealand.
The Auckland Blues bounced back from their one-point loss to the Hurricanes last week to earn their first bonus point this season by scoring four tries against the dismal Reds.
Captain Troy Flavell and fellow lock Greg Rawlinson dominated in the tight while Jerome Kaino and Daniel Braid were effective in the loose as the Blues took control up front.
The Reds missed 25 tackles, gave up 11 penalties and late in the game had flanker David Croft yellow-carded for repeated infringements.
Big backrower Thomas Waldron was the toast of the Wellington Hurricanes with a lunging try after the final hooter to get up over the ACT Brumbies.
The Hurricanes had trailed since the 15th minute and despite dominating territory they let themselves down with basic mistakes.
But when it looked like the game would slip from the grasp and the final hooter had gone, the home side played their get-out-of-jail card with Waldron scoring in the corner.
It was the second time in four games the Brumbies have lost on the bell after their second-round 17-15 loss at home to Auckland.
Springbok flyhalf Andre Pretorius held his nerve to kick the winning penalty goal to give the Lions their first win in Australia and crush the Force's hopes of a first win at home.
The Force have not won in eight home games in two seasons and have lost their last two at home by a point.
The Crusaders scored six tries to three to pound the Cheetahs in a fine display of controlled, patient rugby, recovering from their shock loss to the Lions the previous week.
The Crusaders, missing several All Black players, picked up a scoring bonus point to move into the top half after leading 20-11 at halftime.
In Dunedin, Otago and the Stormers both took a bonus point with four tries each, but three of the Stormers' tries came in the final quarter when the result was beyond doubt and the Highlanders were down to 14 men after running out of replacements.
The Stormers had ample possession to control the game but could make few inroads through the staunch Highlanders defense.
Habana's winning try gave the Bulls the ideal tonic before they head to Australasia for their next five make-or-break games.
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
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