The Coastal Sharks and the Waikato Chiefs are the only remaining unbeaten Super 15 sides after wins in contrasting styles on a weekend that saw the NSW Waratahs crash to their first defeat of the season.
The Waratahs lost a gripping Australian derby clash against the ACT Brumbies, who moved up to third place in the overall standings behind the Sharks and the Chiefs.
The Golden Lions, the Waratahs and the Northern Bulls round out the top six after a round where yellow cards made an impact.
The Sharks, who held on to beat the Queensland Reds 35-20, are five points clear of the Chiefs and the Brumbies, although defending champions the Chiefs have a game in hand.
Bolstered by six successful penalties, the Sharks led 25-6 at halftime.
The Reds produced two converted tries to reduce the deficit to eight points with 16 minutes left, but a yellow card for Reds flank Beau Robinson took the sting out of their revival and allowed the Sharks to score a match-clinching try.
However, the Sharks have benefited from a favorable four home games to start the year, leaving skipper Bismarck du Plessis wary of what lies ahead next week when they hit the road.
“And they do not come any tougher than the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld,” he said.
The Chiefs kept their hopes of a third Super crown on track when they ran in five tries in a 36-20 demolition of the Western Stormers.
The Chiefs led 24-6 early in the second half and, like the Sharks, they also faced a second-half slump as the Stormers closed to within four points with six minutes remaining.
However, hopes of an unlikely comeback were snuffed out when Tevita Koloamatangi and Tanerau Latimer crossed for two late tries.
In Canberra, the Brumbies overcame two yellow cards which saw them a man down for most of the final 20 minutes, to end the Waratahs’ winning start to the season with a 28-23 victory.
The Waratahs made the most of their numerical advantage and piled on 14 late points to secure a losing bonus point and sneak ahead of the Bulls, who had a bye.
Marnitz Boshoff continued the fairytale start to his first Super season with a further 24 points for the Golden Lions in a cliff-hanger 39-36 victory over Auckland Blues.
Boshoff now has 94 points from five games, 40 more than the Central Cheetahs’ Johan Goosen, who lies second on the individual scorers’ list.
The Blues, who produced five tries in a second-half comeback to finish within a whisker of the Lions, were also guilty of ill-discipline, with two costly yellow cards for forwards Charlie Faumuina and Tom Donnelly.
Dogged defense by the Western Force, reduced to 13 men with two in the sin-bin over the closing eight minutes, saw them hang on for a 31-29 bonus-point win over the Otago Highlanders.
It lifted the Force to seventh in the table, equal on points with the Bulls, but behind on points differential.
The Canterbury Crusaders notched up their second win, but with a less-than-convincing 25-19 performance over the Melbourne Rebels, while the Wellington Hurricanes had their first success, beating the Cheetahs 60-27.
The nine-tries-to-three win lifted the Hurricanes off the bottom of the ladder, a position now shared by the Cheetahs and Stormers.