Quick-thinking Northern Bulls scrum-half Adrian Warner sealed a bonus-point Super Rugby victory over Melbourne Rebels Saturday while Canterbury Crusaders and Waikato Chiefs won convincingly.
A tap penalty by substitute Warner eight minutes from time caught Rebels napping in Pretoria and he scored to wrap up a 28-10 win, the third in a row by the South Africans.
Crusaders overcame a spirited Sunwolves side and stormy weather to triumph 33-11 in Christchurch and Chiefs secured a bonus point deep in stoppage time as they beat Queensland Reds 36-12 in Brisbane.
A Thomas du Toit try seven minutes from time earned Coastal Sharks a 24-17 home win over Western Stormers in a Durban duel that improved dramatically after a dour first 40 minutes.
Tries by Adriaan Strauss, Jesse Kriel and Divan Rossouw gave Bulls a 21-3 half-time lead before the revitalised Rebels scored through Michael Ruru to leave 11 points between the teams on 47 minutes.
However, the Australians suffered a third straight defeat after failing to translate territorial and possession dominance during the third quarter into further scores.
Rebels and Bulls remained seventh and eighth respectively in the combined standings, with the result closing the gap between them to two points.
Crusaders, with their bonus point sealed by three late tries, moved to the top of the New Zealand conference, replacing the Wellington Hurricanes, who had a round 10 bye.
It was a hard-fought win as the bottom-placed Sunwolves, who conceded 50 points to the Crusaders a year ago, played above themselves and held the defending champions to 14-11 until 15 minutes into the second half.
But once Ryan Crotty scored his second try to stretch the lead to 21-11, the Crusaders moved up a gear and were in charge during the final quarter.
There were six tries scored, five to the Crusaders, in a match that for much of the time was an arm wrestle as periods of thunder, lightning, torrential rain and occasional hail restricted efforts to produce a free-flowing game.
"It made it slippery, especially when the hail came down, and it probably took us too long to adjust," captain Matt Todd said of the unconvincing Crusaders performance.
"They made us work for every point we got. We had to defend our line at times, and then we built some phases to get some points late, which was pleasing."
The Chiefs led the Reds 31-0 just after half-time but two Samu Kerevi tries meant they needed a Samisoni Taukei'aho try in the fifth minute of stoppage time to secure a bonus point.
It was the 35th straight win by New Zealand teams over Australian opposition and leaves the Reds in fourth spot in the Australian conference.
Chiefs lost fly-half dynamo Damian McKenzie with a head knock midway through the first half, but were always in command, scoring five tries to two.
"We were really stoked to get that bonus point right there at the end, but it was very tough. It would have been nice to kick on after that first 25 minutes," Chiefs skipper Sam Kane said.
Veteran open-side flanker George Smith made his first appearance of the season for the Reds as a substitute after December back surgery.
Tighthead prop Du Toit was not only the Sharks' match-winner, but also the man-of-the-match award winner.
"I will remember my try for a long time and recall it to my family when I am much older," said the forward of his surge over the line from close range.
Lukhanyo Am and Jean-Luc du Preez got Sharks' other tries and leading Super Rugby points scorer Robert du Preez raised his season total to 114 with three conversions and a penalty.
A Raymond Rhule try just before half-time gave Stormers a 7-3 advantage, but a lack of possession meant they spent much of the match on the backfoot.