The Chiefs cemented their place at the top of Super Rugby with a sixth straight win and the Stormers ensured they are the closest chasers, but Saturday's ninth round was highlighted by a rousing first victory in the competition by Japanese newcomers the Sunwolves.
A week after conceding nearly 100 points in one of the worst defeats in Super Rugby history, the Sunwolves rebounded at home in Tokyo to beat Argentina's Jaguares, another new team, 36-28.
The Sunwolves were routed 92-17 by South Africa's Cheetahs last weekend, letting in 14 tries in a match that supported fears they would be uncompetitive in world rugby's toughest professional competition.
But they showed character to top the Jaguares — a team packed full of Argentina internationals — after rallying from 18-13 down at halftime.
Former Samoa flyhalf Tusi Pisi kicked 18 points to lead the Sunwolves to victory even though they were outscored four tries to three. Yasutaka Sasakura, Derek Carpenter, and Harumichi Tatekawa scored the Sunwolves' tries. Tatekawa touched down between the posts in the last minute to seal the win and give the Sunwolves huge heart — and their colorful Tokyo fans great joy — following a tough introduction to Super Rugby.
Later, leaders the Chiefs held on with 14 men in a match of repeated lead changes to beat fellow New Zealand team the Hurricanes 28-27 in the best contest of the season so far.
Fullback Jason Woodward had the chance to win the match for the Hurricanes in the final minute but wasn't able to hold a pass from flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who broke the defensive line and left the tryline open.
Barrett was man of the match, winning the much-anticipated contest with his rival for the All Blacks No. 10 jersey this season, the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden. Barrett scored a try and made another and was outstanding in general play, kicking only the fifth dropped goal in the Hurricanes' history. But he had a poor night from the kicking tee, landing only one of six attempts and that proved costly in a close match.
The Chiefs played the last five minutes of the match with 14 men when they effectively ran out of replacements after injuries to front-rowers.
"Jeez, mate, I thought we were a bit lucky to be honest," Chiefs captain Sam Cane said. "I didn't think we played overly well."
South Africa's Cape Town-based Stormers led early, then fell behind, then raised themselves in the last half-hour to beat Australia visitors Queensland Reds 40-22. Early scores by wings Kobus van Wyk and Leolin Zas suggested the Stormers might overpower the Reds. But tries by flanker Liam Gill, and then fullback Karmichael Hunt and powerful wing Eto Nabuli in four minutes early in the second half, swung things around for Queensland.
The Stormers had to show their resilience with two more tries to stay ahead in the South Africa group and be the closest challengers to the Chiefs, albeit five points behind.
The Johannesburg-based Lions are a point behind the Stormers after coming through a scoreless first 20 minutes to eventually run away from Super Rugby's third new team, the Southern Kings, 45-10.
Hooker Armand van der Merwe and wing Ruan Combrinck scored two tries each and the Lions crossed seven times for a handy bonus-point win.
Wallabies fullback Israel Folau became New South Wales Waratahs' top Super Rugby tryscorer when he bagged one of their six tries in pasting the Western Force 49-13.
Folau, playing at center, scored his 30th career try to overtake Lote Tuqiri's franchise record during a second-half rout in which the Waratahs scored four tries to one. The Waratahs led 17-6 after a relatively close first half but established their superiority in the second spell as they dominated possession and the Force's defense wilted.