Chiefs stay top in Super Rugby despite 8th round bye
The Chiefs were able to observe from their perch atop the Super Rugby table the jostling for position among the chasing pack during the weekend's eighth round which exposed the deficiencies of the expansion Sunwolves team from Japan.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs had the bye and saw their lead trimmed from eight points to two ahead of the Crusaders, who beat Argentina's Jaguares 32-15.
The Wellington-based Hurricanes also moved up with a 38-13 win over the Melbourne Rebels — their fourth-straight bonus point win — to lie only four points behind the Chiefs.
The Durban-based Stormers are next, though their lead atop the South African group was cut to two points when they lost 29-22 to the Johannesburg-based Lions who moved into second on that table.
A bye proved more costly to defending champions the Highlanders (23 points) who found themselves shuffled back to fourth place in the New Zealand conference and to fifth on the overall table.
The ACT Brumbies stayed atop the Australian conference with a 26-20 win over the New South Wales Waratahs which featured a hattrick to winger Joe Tomane.
The Pretoria-based Bulls beat the Queensland Reds 41-22 while the Durban-based Sharks lost 23-18 loss to the Blues in Auckland.
The most eye-catching result was a 92-17 win for the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs against the Sunwolves, involving a Super record 14 tries.
The Sunwolves lost by only a point in their first meeting with the Cheetahs this season, but the toll of travel, injuries and tough matches has clearly told on the Japanese team, which is facing a long second half of the season.
With the Chiefs resting through a bye weekend they hope will ease their heavy injury toll, the Hurricanes were the most impressive of the New Zealand teams, extending their winning sequence to five games. Flyhalf Beauden Barrett scored two tries among 18 points as the Hurricanes continued their recovery from the loss of their first two matches.
"It was nice to score the amount of points we did," Barrett said. "We're disappointed with some parts of our game, particularly after halftime whe we didn't capitalize on (flanker) Sean McMahon being in the sin bin. We were not as accurate and decisive as we needed to be to put the foot on the throat."
The Crusaders were less impressive in beating the Jaguares. Former All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg, in his first match since September, scored two tries to help spur the Crusaders to their sixth-straight win — their longest streak since 2011.
Dagg said he was so nervous before the match that he could not eat.
"I was champing at the bit to to get out there," Dagg said. "It was a perfect day to play footy and I just really enjoyed it."
The Blues remained at the bottom of the New Zealand conference despite their win over the Sharks. The South African team led 18-10 early in the second half but wilted late and allowed the Blues to snatch the match with a 64th-minute try to winger Rieko Ioane.
The Stormers took a consolation bonus point from their 29-22 loss to the Lions and the four bonus points they have taken from seven games have helped keep them atop the South African group.