Defending champions the Highlanders ended a two-game losing streak to beat the ACT Brumbies and the Hurricanes revived their Super Rugby season with a thumping 50-17 win over the Lions on Saturday.
On a day of success for all the New Zealand teams in action, the Blues hung on to see off the Melbourne Rebels 36-30, giving victory to the last-place team in the New Zealand conference over the top team in the Australian frame.
Captain Michael Hooper scurried over between the posts in the dying minutes to give New South Wales Waratahs a late 32-30 win over the 14-man Stormers in South Africa. Those losses for the Lions and Stormers meant South Africa's two leading teams both slipped up.
In Invercargill, New Zealand, flyhalf Lima Sopoaga scored a try among 18 points for the Highlanders, who overcame an acute shortage of possession to outscore the Brumbies two tries to one.
The Brumbies had 80 percent of possession in the first quarter and 68 percent in the first half but their only points from that supremacy came from a penalty. Sopoaga scored his try a minute before halftime to make it 7-3, and fullback Ben Smith scored immediately after halftime to punish the Brumbies for handling and defensive errors.
The Brumbies managed a try to hooker Josh Mann-Rea before Sopoaga kicked the Highlanders ahead with three second-half penalties.
On a day when little went right, the Brumbies' bus broke down and they had to taxi to the ground. Their insipid performance allowed the Highlanders to return to winning ways and shore up their title defense.
"It didn't always go the way we would have wanted but I'm proud the boys just stuck in there and got the job done," Smith said.
The Hurricanes, losing finalists to the Highlanders last season, produced the performance of the day to run in seven tries against the Lions in Johannesburg. The 'Canes outsmarted and outmuscled the Lions at the breakdown and were clinical off turnover ball to revive their season.
Center Matt Proctor and winger Cory Jane snapped up intercept scores in the Hurricanes' five tries in the first half to lead 36-5 at the break. Jane and fellow All Blacks winger Julian Savea ended with two tries each.
Hooper's late score stole the game for the Waratahs after Stormers lock Pieter-Steph du Toit had appeared to seize the win for the Stormers with his second try in the 73rd minute.
However, the game's defining moment came with 22 minutes to go when Stormers wing Leolin Zas was sent off for a dangerous tackle in the air on Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley. From then on, the Waratahs were in the ascendancy, even though they needed a last-gasp score from their skipper after winning a scrum against the head five meters from the Stormers' try-line.
"It was a grind," Hooper said. "The Stormers threw a lot at us. We had to make the most of the opportunities we had."
The Auckland-based Blues were hard-pressed to achieve their six-tries-to-four win over Melbourne. They led 36-18 after 52 minutes, then conceded two late tries. A penalty awarded against the Rebels as they attacked with two minutes remaining finally clinched the match for the Blues.
The Rebels set the early pace in Auckland to lead 8-0. The Blues took advantage of missed tackles to respond with tries through Jerome Kaino, Charlie Faumuina, and flyhalf Ihaia West to be 24-18 up into halftime. Melbourne missed almost 30 tackles in total and the Blues were able to develop their attacking game, scoring further tries through Tevita Li and Lolagi Visinia.
But the Blues then lapsed into mistakes, giving up soft possessions and conceding tries to Colby Fainga'a and Sefa Naivalu, which brought their lead back to 36-30 with 13 minutes to play. Their control frayed in the late stages of the match until the referee blew a vital penalty in their favor with time running out.
"My heart's still racing as we speak," Blues captain James Parsons said. "We didn't close it out as we would have liked but after not starting well we got ourselves into a good position. We're just looking for that 80-minute performance."
Also Saturday, Queensland Reds posted their second win of the season, beating the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs 30-17 as scrumhalf Nick Frisby scored two tries and flyhalf Jake McIntyre kicked 15 points.