MELBOURNE - The Sharks have opened a three-point lead at the top of rugby's Super 14 after an impressive weekend win and a surprising slip-up by fellow South Africans the Bulls.
The Sharks romped to a 35-14 bonus point home win over Australia's ACT Brumbies to take up the running at the halfway stage of the southern hemisphere provincial series.
The Waratahs are second on the standings after an historic 27-22 win over the Blues for the first success by a New South Wales side at Auckland's Eden Park since 1928.
The red-hot Waikato Chiefs and Bulls are joint third after contrasting results.
The Chiefs routed the Queensland Reds 50-26 in Brisbane, but the Bulls relinquished their five-match unbeaten start to the season in a shock 36-12 loss to the Otago Highlanders in New Zealand.
The Wellington Hurricanes and seven-time champions the Canterbury Crusaders kept in the hunt for the May play-offs with important victories.
The Hurricanes opened their South African tour with a 38-32 win over the Lions in Johannesburg, while the Crusaders won their second straight match with a dour 11-7 win over South Africa's Stormers in Christchurch.
The Sharks celebrated their first home game after a four-week tour of Australasia with a five-try win over the Brumbies in Durban.
With a string of home matches to come, the Sharks are favoured to end the league phase in top place and secure a home semifinal.
The Waratahs defended staunchly in the final minutes to preserve their five-point lead and get their season back on track after two straight losses.
The Blues matched the three tries scored by the Waratahs but their defensive frailty was on show again in a competition where they have scored the most points and conceded the most.
Otago's forward pack dominated the Bulls at the breakdown to set up a five-tries-to-two victory over the previous Super 14 pacesetters.
The most telling statistic was the 13 breakdown turnovers the Highlanders pack won compared to the Bulls' three.
Early and late try-scoring bursts fashioned a six-point victory for the Hurricanes over the Lions to jump three places to fifth.
Though the troubled Lions collected two bonus points for scoring four tries and losing by less than seven points, they remain second last ahead of an Australasian adventure.
Australia's Western Force and the Cheetahs of South Africa had the weekend off. - Sapa-AFP