The Crusaders ended the Sharks' unbeaten start in Super Rugby and fellow New Zealand team the Chiefs laid down their own marker in round five with a nine-try demolition of the Western Force on Saturday.
In Durban, South Africa, the Crusaders recovered from two intercept tries to Sharks wing Lwazi Mvovo to win 19-14 thanks to a try in the last 10 minutes to All Blacks No. 8 Kieran Read.
The Crusaders had all the territory and possession at Kings Park, but two backline mistakes allowed Mvovo to speed away for a 14-7 lead for the home team. The Crusaders responded with a try in the corner to powerful Fiji winger Nemani Nadolo, and then went through 15 phases before Read went over for the match-winning score in the 71st minute.
That confirmed victory for a Crusaders team that was better in every facet — apart from some errant goalkicking — against the tournament's early pacesetter and last remaining unbeaten team.
Looking for their first title since 2008, the Christchurch-based Crusaders improved to 3-1.
The Chiefs lead the Australasian standings after the Hamilton-based outfit took apart Australia's visiting Western Force.
Charlie Ngatai scored four tries and Damian McKenzie two as the Chiefs overcame the loss of 12 players to injury to take a bonus point from a hefty 53-10 win. Ngatai scored four of the seven second-half tries while McKenzie maintained his record of having scored a try in every match this season.
Other tries went to back-rower Michael Leitch, winger James Lowe ,and Los Angeles-born Tony Pulu, who scored with his first touch in Super Rugby. The Chiefs led 12-10 at halftime after first-half tries to McKenzie and Leitch.
Later, a New Zealand side made it two-from-two when the defending champion Highlanders beat the Rebels 27-3 at Melbourne. The Highlanders' defense was solid, making 117 tackles and missing just nine to force the Rebels into continuous errors.
The win left the Highlanders a point behind the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference.
The Canberra-based ACT Brumbies are the best-placed Australian team and second behind the Chiefs in the Australasian standings after winning at the Cheetahs 25-18.
No. 8 Ita Vaea, fullback Aidan Toua and prop Ben Alexander had ACT's three tries in a hard-fought victory against a stubborn Cheetahs team in Bloemfontein.
Tournament newcomers the Sunwolves scored the first and last tries in Singapore but still fell 30-27 to the visiting Bulls of South Africa, a fourth straight loss for the Japan-based team to start their first season in Super Rugby.
Flanker Andrew Durutalo scored straight away for the Sunwolves against the three-time title winners, but the Bulls ground their way back with their powerful forwards setting up tries to hooker Adriaan Strauss and flanker Roelof Smit before winger Jamba Ulengo made certain.
Ultimately, replacement Yuki Yatomi's score after the final hooter came when the game was already lost for the Sunwolves.
In Saturday's final game, the Cape Town-based Stormers could take advantage of the Sharks' slip in the South African conference if they win big in a tough away test at the Jaguares of Argentina, easily the most impressive of the three new teams this year.