WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Wellington-based Hurricanes moved atop Super Rugby standings with their sixth-straight win in the weekend's ninth round, leaving little doubt they are the best team in the tournament just past the midpoint of the regular season.
The Hurricanes beat the Hamilton-based Chiefs 25-13 to earn another important victory in a New Zealand derby. In recent weeks they have also beaten the Durban-based Sharks 38-37, with a try in the sixth minute of injury time, the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, former tournament pacemakers the Melbourne Rebels, the Highlanders and defending champion Crusaders.
By winning this weekend they established a three-point lead in the New Zealand conference, in which eight points now cover the first four teams, and edged two points clear of South Africa's Lions on the overall table.
The Chiefs hit back late in Friday's match with a try to flanker Lachlan Boshier but the Hurricanes always seemed to have the game in safe-keeping.
The Hurricanes' upward mobility was also due in part to the fact the Lions and Crusaders had byes. The New South Wales Waratahs beat the Queensland Reds 37-16 to move into third place behind the Lions on the overall table and into first place in Australia, overtaking the Rebels who were beaten 25-22 at home by the Jaguares.
The Waratahs have now had five wins, a draw and a loss and are three points ahead of the Rebels who, after setting the early pace in this year's tournament, are now 4-3 after losses to the Waratahs, Hurricanes and Jaguares.
Saturday's loss to the Argentina-based team was particularly troubling for a team which had started to believe it had left behind years of under-achievement to take a place among the better teams in the competition. The Jaguares seldom win away from home but they clearly targeted the Rebels and outplayed them.
The Jaguares rallied from 19-3 down in the second half to lead 25-22, retaining that margin when the Rebels chose not to kick a penalty in the last-minute of the game which would have secured a draw but to go for a match-winning try.
"We were not here for a draw. All or nothing," Captain Adam Coleman said.
The Highlanders outclassed the ACT Brumbies, winning 43-17 to take a bonus point. The match was tight until the 60th minute when Highlanders winger Waisake Naholo intercepted a loose pass and dashed almost 90 meters to score.
That gave the Dunedin-based team a 22-10 lead, allowed them to relax and they ran in three late tries.
The Auckland-based Blues came from behind to beat Japan's Sunwolves 24-10 in Tokyo for their second win of the season.
And the Pretoria-based Bulls moved off the bottom of the South African conference and up to third behind the Sharks with a 40-10 win over the Sharkes. Adriaan Strauss scored a try for the Bulls in his record-extending 150th Super Rugby game, while the Sharks' only try came through center Andre Esterhuizen.