Five of New Zealand's six teams now sit inside the top eight in a weekend that saw rampant wins by the competition leaders the Blues, the defending champion Crusaders, and a dominant Hurricanes team.
The Highlanders followed their win in Fiji last week with an impressive upset win over the Reds away in Brisbane.
Blues 71 Rebels 28
All the pains of campaigns past were released in this near-record 11-try romp over a Force team who missed 34 tackles against a Blues team that carried for 762 metres, all while coming back from 0-14 down after six minutes play. A stunning 20 offloads were unleashed while, in the loose, the Force conceded16 turnovers to feed the hungry Blues' machine. Skills prevailed as the Blues achieved what they had threatened for so long. The Ioanes celebrated with five tries between them, three of them to centre Rieko. Lock James Tucker provided a showing of his capabilities, among a tight five who all showed their skills with ball in hand. First five-eighths Stephen Perofeta demonstrated his organisational, and personal, skills during a 21-point individual haul and while right-wing Mark Telea won the prize for aerial work in scoring his try, left-wing Caleb Clarke took the honours for uplifting his team-mates with a stunning break after the restart from the try halfback Finlay Christie scored to claim the lead. From the ruck when Clarke was downed, Tucker was on hand to go over wide out. It was the story of a special night out for the Blues back on home turf.
Blues 71 (Akira Ioane 2, Finlay Christie, James Tucker, Hoskins Sotutu, Rieko Ioane 3, Mark Telea, Stephen Perofeta, Caleb Clarke tries; Perofeta 8 con) Rebels 28 (Pone Fa'amausili, Josh Canham, Brad Wilkin, Reece Hodge tries; Hodge 4 con). HT: 47-14
Reds 19 Highlanders 27
Lock Josh Dickson blotted his copybook when sin-binned 12 minutes after his return from a red card suspension for a high tackle, followed four minutes later by No8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u for a tip tackle. The immediate outcome was Reds fullback Jock Campbell taking advantage of the reduced defence to run in the opening try. On the opposite wing, Josh Flook got up high to field a cross-kick from first five-eighths Lawson Creighton to score. Something seemed to lift the Highlanders and centre Thomas Umaga-Jensen unleashed individual skill to cut through the Reds' defences to score. Lock Ryan Smith helped himself to a try when not held to extend the home side's lead to 19-12. Replacement halfback Folau Fakatava produced reward from a strong run by prop Daniel Lienert-Brown, when taking the ball and unleashing a behind-his-back reverse-pass to wing Scott Gregory for the Highlanders to claim the lead. Then from a lineout play, it was Fakatava who ducked around a ruck to score unchallenged to push the Highlanders further ahead.
Reds 19 (Jock Campbell, Josh Flook, Ryan Smith tries; Lawson Creighton 2 con) Highlanders 27 (Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory, Folau Fakatava tries; Mitch Hunt con, 2 pen; Marty Banks 2 con). HT: 12-10
Moana Pasifika 20 Waratahs 26
Opening with two tries in the first quarter, the first from a bullocking charge at the line by prop Abraham Pole and the second a traditional move with centre Levi Aumua scoring under the posts. The Waratahs responded with centre Izaia Perese too easily evading the home defence to score while hooker Dave Porecki got over from a classic pick-and-go situation. Unnecessary possession was lost by Moana, and the Waratahs pounced. Moving the ball across field, Perese hit the ball at speed to break the defence then put in a kick he regathered to put wing Dylan Pietsch in for a try before the TMO revealed a Moana player had put a foot in touch before the Waratahs secured the ball and the try was lost. There was time for Moana first five-eighths Christian Leali'ifano to land his second penalty goal, and his 1000th Super Rugby point. But the loss of wing Tima Fainga'anuku for a tackle dump over the horizontal allowed the Waratahs to get into Moana territory and get wing Mark Nawaqanitawase over out wide after a long pass from halfback Jake Gordon. They backed that with opposite wing Pietsch crossing on Fainga'anuku's vacant side of the field. Back on the field Fainga'anuku looked to have scored to reclaim the lead only to have touched the sideline in-goal.
Moana Pasifika 20 (Abraham Pole, Levi Aumua tries; Christian Leali'ifano 2 con, 2 pen) Waratahs 26 (Izaia Perese, David Porecki, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Dylan Pietsch tries; Tane Edmed 2 con; Ben Donaldson con). HT: 17-14
Chiefs 28 Brumbies 38
The Chiefs had plenty of possession, but the Brumbies got themselves in better positions more often to take their chances in Hamilton. Brumbies halfback Nic White will never score an easier try than the unchallenged blindside effort to open the scoring. Chiefs centre Alex Nankivell had the presence of mind to keep chasing the ball in-goal after a Brumbies hand knocked the ball back. Hooker Folau Fainga'a demonstrated why the Brumbies' lineout maul is so dangerous close to the line when putting them back in the lead. Chiefs interplay in the 22m area saw halfback Cortez Ratima cross after staying in support of flanker Luke Jacobson. Three minutes into the second half centre Len Ikitau created the scoring break the Brumbies never relinquished when crossing. Pita Gus Sowakula pulled seven points back on the end of a lineout move but Brumbies loosie Rob Valentini, one of the most impressive players on the night, cut lose to put replacement hooker Billy Pollard in. The Chiefs scored again through lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi but were still 10 points short at the end.
Chiefs 28 (Alex Nankivell, Cortez Ratima, Pita Gus Sowakula, Naitoa Ah Kuoi tries; Bryn Gatland 2 con; Kaleb Trask 2 con) Brumbies 38 (Nic White, Folau Fainga'a, Len Ikitau, Billy Pollard tries; Noah Lolosio 3 con, 4 pen). HT. 14-18
Force 15 Crusaders 53
Hat-trick try heroes, fullback Will Jordan and wing Leicester Fainga'anuku ensured the Crusaders righted the wrongs of two frustrating weeks to swamp the Force 53-15 in Perth. The Force were in the hunt early, and were still a chance early in the second half. But once they got the bit between their teeth, the Crusaders romped home. It was an emphatic performance with the Crusaders moving the ball with ease from all over the ground. The forwards were rampant with the ball in hand, and their outstanding support was relentless as the Crusaders demonstrated why they can never be written off. They ran twice as many metres as the Force with Jordan covering 158m, 98m more than next highest, wing George Bridge, and with nine clean breaks to three, they made every chance count. They made 165 tackles to 125 by the Force, demonstrating how much they denied the home team even when not having the ball while 10 turnovers won to four showed how much they shut down any Force thoughts of a comeback like that which had the Blues nervous in their game a week earlier.
Force 15 (Jake Strachan, Fergus Lee-Warner tries; Strachan con, pen) Crusaders 53 (Leicester Fainga'anuku 3, Will Jordan 3, Pablo Matera, George Bell tries; Richie Mo'unga 5 con, pen). HT: 8-18
Hurricanes 67 Drua 5
Running the ball in the best Hurricanes' fashion, the home team carried for 717 metres and made the Drua pay for poor defence by beating 41 defenders to 13 and making 11 clean breaks to one. Thrust provided by jet-powered fullback Josh Moorby split the Fijian Drua early in Wellington, and the visitors never recovered. Add in some classy touches from wing Salesi Rayasi and centre Billy Proctor, who scored two tries, and the Hurricanes were always in control, going to halftime 26-0 up. No8 Tyler Laubscher provided promise with ball in hand setting up a second-half try for Wes Goosen to complete a brace before Rayasi showed his try-scoring skill. Lock Justin Sangster scored his first Super Rugby try just before the end as the Hurricanes produced one of their more complete efforts of the season. First five-eighths Aidan Morgan contributed to the effort with a controlled display of passing and kicking in a rare chance in the starting role for the season.
Hurricanes 67 (Josh Moorby 3, Asafo Aumua, Billy Proctor 2, Wes Goosen 2, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Salesi Rayesi, Justin Sangster tries; Aidan Morgan 6 con) Drua 5 (Onisi Ratave try). HT: 26-0