The Crusaders overcame the toughest test of their unbeaten start to Super Rugby when they downed the defending champion Hurricanes 20-12 to extend their winning streak to 11 games on Saturday.
There was only one try in the match, scored by Crusaders flanker Matt Todd in the 50th minute. Todd was driven over the Hurricanes' line in a rolling maul which began at a lineout.
The Hurricanes scored 63 tries in their nine matches before Saturday, but were held tryless for the first time in more than three years.
"We didn't let them get anything going off the set-piece, which was a credit to our front row, the tight five and the whole forward pack really," Crusaders captain Ryan Crotty said. "It was a massive effort."
The victory took New Zealand's Crusaders back to the top of the overall standings after South Africa's Lions went ahead of them on Friday following their third straight victory on their tour of Australia.
The Highlanders closed the gap to the third-placed Hurricanes in the New Zealand conference when they prevailed over the Bulls on a rain-soaked field in Pretoria, South Africa. The Highlanders won a grinding game 17-10, with a slick late try by center Malakai Fekitoa, who jinked through the heart of the Bulls defense, breaking the deadlock.
Both teams had a man sent off: Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo for a shoulder charge in a tackle and Bulls lock RG Snyman for charging in with his shoulder at a ruck.
The Queensland Reds moved into second place in the Australian conference, three points behind the ACT Brumbies, with a 29-24 win over the Melbourne Rebels. Samu Kerevi scored two tries for the Reds, who won for only the third time in 11 matches.
In the upset of the round, relegation candidates the Southern Kings continued to defy their doubters with a third straight win, and their fourth of the season, beating the Sharks 35-32 for their first victory over a fellow South African team in Super Rugby.
The Kings sneaked home in a pulsating game at their Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium with a 78th-minute try by replacement back Pieter-Steyn de Wet. He slid in on the left wing after the desperate Kings, trailing by four points, hammered away at the Sharks' line in the final minutes before going wide and finding Steyn free out on the left.
Wing Alshaun Block scored two of the Kings' four tries, and set up the other for captain Lionel Cronje. Block was only a late call-up to the team and was initially down to play in a curtain-raiser before the Kings-Sharks clash.
"What a game, hey?" he said. "The coach gave us the message: Just play your hearts out."
The Kings are making it tough for the South African Rugby Union to throw them out of the competition. Super Rugby organizers SANZAAR decided this season to cut three teams - two from South Africa and one from Australia - next season. South Africa and Australia must decide who to dump, and the Kings were identified as likely to go.
But the Kings now have a better record than the Bulls, who are three-time champions, and every one of the five teams from Australia.
In their New Zealand derby, the Crusaders' victory over the Hurricanes showed they had the grit to go with the flair they've shown all season to average nearly 40 points a game in their quest for a record-extending eighth title.
This one was much tighter.
The Crusaders took the lead with an early penalty to flyhalf Richie Mo'unga before the Hurricanes went ahead with two goals to fullback Jordie Barrett. Mo'unga kicked two more to give the Crusaders a 9-6 lead, then Barrett goaled again to level the scores at 9-9 at halftime.
Todd's try, unconverted by Mo'unga, gave the Crusaders a 14-9 lead, increased to 17-9 by Mo'unga's fourth goal.
Barrett closed the margin to 17-12 with a penalty but Mo'unga's last penalty made the lead eight points and put the game beyond the Hurricanes' reach.