In the meantime, the Hurricanes will face a resurgent Highlanders, who have jumped to sixth on the ladder after their win over Moana Pasifika. It was the Highlanders third straight win after dropping their first three games.
The Chiefs dented the Blues campaign with a 20-13 win in Hamilton, while the Brumbies denied a much-improved Waratahs side 40-36 in Canberra to hold third position. It is the first time the Chiefs have won their opening six games in a season.
The Crusaders are fourth, eight points off the pace, and three ahead of the Blues. The Fijian Drua jumped to seventh with their win in Suva over the Rebels.
Moana Pasifika 17 Highlanders 45
Drawing first blood at Mt Smart Stadium, Moana Pasifika demonstrated they were in better shape than a week earlier. Captain and No8 Solomone Funaki set the measure for his team. However, the Highlanders weren't impressed. Moments later, lock Pari Pari Parkinson applied full stretch to drive over in the tackle while fullback Sam Gilbert's productive try-scoring continued when he crossed to give his side the lead. Moana Pasifika centre Levi Aumua also has fans sitting up, and he showed why by delivering on a switch pass from first five-eighths Lincoln McClutchie to help them regain the lead. But, again, Parkinson power split the home defence, and as he went to the ground, No8 Hugh Renton reached down to take the ball to score.
Moana Pasifika was in the contest until the 51st minute, but centre Feluli Paea's bust through the home midfield gave the Highlanders the cushion they needed. Halfback Folau Fakatava's insertion from the bench allowed him to open his can of tricks. Running wide from a ruck, he created a gap inside before he fed wing Mosese Dawai through. Next up was replacement Marino Mikaele-Tu'u who had to run 22m from Fakatava's inside pass to score. Then, just before fulltime, Thomas Umaga-Jensen showed his eye for the main chance when setting up a support play drive with flanker Sean Withy, who returned the ball to Umaga-Jensen, who eluded the home defence to cross for the last of the tries.
Moana Pasifika 17 (Solomone Funaki, Levi Aumua tries; Lincoln McClutchie 2con, pen) Highlanders 45 (Pari Pari Parkinson, Sam Gilbert, Hugh Renton, Feluli Paea, Mosese Dawai, Marino Mikaele Tu'u, Thomas Umaga-Jensen tries; Gilbert 5 con). HT: 17-19
Reds 12 Crusaders 25
Crusaders' first five-eighths' Richie Mo'unga's penchant for propping back inside and feeding supporting players cracked the Reds' defence at the end of the first quarter in Brisbane for left-wing Leicester Fainga'anuku to continue his try-scoring haul. New halfback Noah Holtham sniped around a mid-field ruck to find Dominic Gardiner in support. Once he off-loaded to Gardiner, the mobile lock was too fast for the home defence. However, the Reds responded, finally given the amount of possession they had enjoyed when running kicked ball back through fullback Jock Campbell who linked with first five-eighths James O'Connor. He fed No8 Harry Wilson, who turned the ball inside for halfback Tate McDermott to score.
The Reds kept the Crusaders out until 13 minutes elapsed in the second half, but after a drive at the line by the visitors, replacement halfback Willie Heinz had the security of his pack to shelter from defenders, and as a space opened over the goal-line, he slipped the ball forward and touched down for a decisive try. The Reds looked to have scored through wing Jordan Petaia, but he was ruled to have been in touch. However, moments later, he ran onto a grubber kick to the line from McDermott to score. The Reds went close to securing a loser's bonus point in the final 16 minutes but couldn't execute.
Reds 12 (Tate McDermott, Jordan Petaia tries; Isaac Henry con) Crusaders 25 (Leicester Fainga'anuku, Dominic Gardiner, Willie Heinz tries; Richie Mo'unga 2 con, 2 pen). HT: 7-15
Fijian Drua 38 Rebels 28
Pure Fijian class rocked the Rebels from the earliest moments of their game in Suva, fullback Iliasa Droasese demonstrating the worth of support play to take an inside pass and score in the third minute. Two minutes later, wing Selestine Ravutaumada took an intercept pass to race 50m to score. Ravutaumada showed his distribution skill when running hard to pass to flanker Vilive Miramira, who was unchallenged to score the third. The Rebels responded at the end of the first quarter when hooker Alex Mafi scored standing off a ruck to go over beneath the posts. It was a momentary setback for the home side. Centre Iosefo Masi took advantage of Kalaveti Ravouvou's short pass to pierce the defence to run 40m, coming back on the angle to score. Ravouvou was in action again to make an initial break to give ever-present flanker Kitione Salawa his chance to score.
The Rebels had time to come back. When replacement back Andrew Kellaway scored, it looked like a reasonable chance, but a turnover, a kick ahead and a favourable bounce saw replacement flanker Ella Canakaivata score to make it harder for the Rebels. However, they did finish with tries to first five-eighths Carter Gordon and replacement prop Pone Fa'amausili.
Fijian Drua 38 (Iliasa Droasese, Selestine Ravutaumada, Vilive Miramira, Iosefo Masi, Kitione Salawa, Ella Canakaivata tries; Teti Tel 4 con) Rebels 28 (Alex Mafi, Andrew Kellaway, Carter Gordon, Pone Fa'amausili tries; Reece Hodge 4 con). HT: 33-7
Chiefs 20 Blues 13
A try to flying wing Emoni Narawa 22 seconds after the start of this Hamilton thriller summed up the Blues' night. The ball was won from a turnover, and first five-eighths Damian McKenzie slipped a grubber kick through to Referees' Corner at FMG Stadium, and Narawa did the rest to score with precision inside the corner flag. Using their blindside expertise, the best in the competition, the Blues responded through hooker Ricky Riccitelli driving over from a ruck. McKenzie added a penalty goal before a fundamental error by Blues, first five-eighths Beauden Barrett saw him step on the dead ball line to miss a try. The Blues were fortunate subsequent play saw wing Caleb Clark draw the sides level at 10-10. But when outstanding hooker Samisoni Taukeiaho burst from a maul only to miss a brilliant try when slipping, the ball was moved across field for Narawa to again dive over in a tackle to score.
McKenzie's influence was significant. He landed two first-half conversions from the sideline and opened the second half with a 53m penalty goal. In a reprise of their loss to the Crusaders, the Blues had their chances but failed to take them, most notably when centre Rieko Ioane lost the ball going to the line, and in the game's last act, Clarke missed a second try when unable to hold the wet ball. The Chiefs defied the possession and position statistics to achieve their win. They made 170 tackles to 74, they dealt with the Blues carrying for 401m to 22lm, making 140 carries to 65, lost the ruck count 52-99 and the penalty count 14-7, but they won six turnovers to one – the first 22 seconds into the game ultimately proving the difference.
Chiefs 20 (Emoni Narawa 2 tries; Damian McKenzie 2 con, 2 pen) Blues 13 (Ricky Riccitelli, Caleb Clarke tries; Beauden Barrett pen). HT: 17-10
Brumbies 40 Waratahs 36
Early fluidity from the Waratahs saw wing Dylan Pietsch fed over by flanker Michael Hooper and hooker David Porecki follow with a pick-and-go try to lead 14-0 before the home responded after first five-eighths Noah Lolesio grubber-kicked into the goalmouth for second five-eighths Leni Ikitau to run onto the ball and score. Reduced to 13 men with props, Harry Johnson-Holmes and Daniel Botha sin-binned, and the Waratahs responded with lock Jed Holloway driving over the line to score. But just before halftime, prop James Slipper burst into a gap off a short pass from halfback Nic White to close the halftime margin to 14-21.
A break by fullback Max Jorgensen allowed centre Lalakai Foketi to extend the margin early in the second half. But in the 12th minute, Slipper was in again from a lineout move. Waratahs wing Mark Nawaqanitawase showed his class with a kick ahead and a regather to score after halfback Jake Gordon ran the blindside. Home No8 Pete Samu drew the Brumbies closer with a storming break to score from a five-metre scrum. And then hooker Lachie Lonergan pounced on a knocked-down pass by Hooper, who was sin-binned, that bounced in goal to get the Brumbies in front. A penalty goal seven minutes out had the Waratahs one point in front, but when replacement five-eighths, Peter Debreczeni threw a long pass outside wing Corey Toole made no mistake to score the winner.
Brumbies 40 (Leni Ikitau, James Slipper 2, Pete Samu, Lachie Lonergan Corey Toole tries; Noah Lolesio 3 con; Ryan Lonergan 2 con) Waratahs 36 (Dylan Pietsch, David Porecki, Jed Holloway, Lalaki Foketi, Mark Nawaqanitawase tries; Ben Donaldson 4 con, pen). HT: 14-21
Hurricanes 45 Force 42
Struggling might be the description for the Force. Still, there is no doubting their ability to last beyond 80 minutes in games, and they proved that again when punishing a Hurricanes side that was unable to contain the visitors in Palmerston North. From being 45-21 ahead with 12 minutes remaining and with a try-scoring bonus point, the Hurricanes faltered as the Force ran in three tries, the last of them five minutes into extra time.
Up 26-7 at the break, the Hurricanes made good use of the momentum developed by loose forwards Brayden Iose (2) and Du'Plessie Kirifi, who scored the first three tries, while hooker Dane Coles might have well been a loosie so often did he turn up just when required. Centre Bailyn Sullivan was another who made a significant impact with the ball. But the leadership of lock Jeremy Williams kept the Force alive, and they had a great reward for their persistence, ending the game and their tough three-match New Zealand tour, full of running and with a loser's bonus point while denying the Hurricanes theirs.
Hurricanes 45 (Du'Plessis Kirifi, Brayden Iose 2, Dane Coles, Bailyn Sullivan, Kini Naholo, Hame Faiva tries; Jordie Barrett 5 con) Force 42 (Jeremy Williams, Gareth Simpson, Zach Kibirige 2, Siosofa Amone, Jake Strachan tries; Simpson 4 con; Strachan 2 con). HT: 26-7