The Coastal Sharks remain unbeaten under Jake White and consolidated their lead at the top of the Super 15 table with a commanding South African derby win on the weekend.
In the absence of the New South Wales Waratahs and defending champions the Waikato Chiefs, the Sharks put away the Golden Lions 37-23 in Durban to lead the southern hemisphere provincial series by four points.
The Sharks, prepared this year by 2007 World Cup-winning coach White, outscored the Lions four tries to two, with Francois Steyn kicking 17 points.
Australia’s Waratahs and the Chiefs from New Zealand had byes this weekend, but still lead their respective conferences after the fourth round of matches.
Triple champions the Northern Bulls occupy fourth place on the overall standings following their comprehensive 38-22 win over the Auckland Blues in Pretoria.
Australian contenders the ACT Brumbies and the Queensland Reds made up ground with weekend victories.
The Brumbies won away in Wellington, downing the Hurricanes 29-21, while the Reds fought off South Africa’s Central Cheetahs 43-33 in Brisbane.
Elsewhere, the Western Force won their first match of the season with a surprisingly easy 32-7 victory over the Melbourne Rebels, while the Canterbury Crusaders edged South Africa’s Western Stormers 14-13 in Christchurch.
Steyn was the star for the Sharks with a flawless goalkicking display to back up his team’s four tries over the Lions in Durban.
Originally selected at inside center, the 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning Springbok was switched to flyhalf before kickoff because Patrick Lambie felt unwell.
Steyn reveled in the playmaker role landing four conversions and three penalties.
The Sharks left it late to post their bonus-point fourth try, with flanker Marcell Coetzee getting the touchdown on 80 minutes.
In Pretoria, prop Marcel van der Merwe barged over for a late try to also give the Bulls a bonus-point victory over John Kirwan’s Blues.
After crossing the tryline three times during the first half to lead 25-12 at the break, the additional try the Bulls needed for a five-point haul continually eluded them.
However, a late surge took the Bulls within meters of the New Zealand side’s line and when the ball came to replacement prop Van der Merwe near the post, his strength told.
The Brumbies, under first-season coach Stephen Larkham, shook off a sluggish start to down the Hurricanes and showed glimpses of the form that took them to last year’s Super 15 final.
The Australian side was behind 13-3 after 35 minutes, but unleashed a try-scoring blitz to claim 19 points either side of halftime to leave the Hurricanes winless after three matches.
The Canberra-based side secured a bonus point after finishing with four tries to two and showed no ill-effects after this week losing Wallabies flanker David Pocock for the season with a knee injury, with Jarred Butler proving an able replacement.