Champions Waikato Chiefs and the Northern Bulls kept the heat on Super 15 frontrunners ACT Brumbies with victories this weekend as the NSW Waratahs went on a 11-try rampage in South Africa.
The Chiefs beat the Rebels 39-33 to draw level with the Brumbies on 40 points at the top of the overall standings ahead of Sunday's home match between the Australian conference leaders and the Canterbury Crusaders.
The Bulls edged two points clear at the top of the South African conference with a bonus-point 48-14 win over New Zealand's Wellington Hurricanes in Pretoria.
But the eye-catching result of the weekend was the Waratahs' spectacular 72-10 demolition of the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth for the Sydney side's first win in South Africa in four years.
The Queensland Reds closed to within one point of the Brumbies in the Australian conference but it was tough going in a grinding 11-11 draw with the Western Force in Perth.
The Auckland Blues kept in touch with the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference with a dramatic 18-17 win over South Africa's Western Stormers in Albany.
New Zealand's Otago Highlanders broke through for their first win of the season with a tight 25-22 victory over South Africa's Coastal Sharks in Dunedin, while the Central Cheetahs had the weekend bye.
The Chiefs scored six tries but were forced to scramble to a six-point win over the Rebels with wayward Wallaby Kurtley Beale returning to the home side after six weeks out dealing with disciplinary and injury issues.
The tournament's leading points scorer, Gareth Anscombe, crossed for three tries and kicked three conversions and a penalty goal for 24 points as the Chiefs took over the lead in the New Zealand conference.
The Rebels, who trailed 24-7 at one stage in the first half, got to within a converted try of pulling off an amazing comeback win only for the Chiefs to hang on for victory with the home side pounding their try-line.
Opportunist first-half touchdowns set the Bulls up for a handsome victory over the Hurricances on the way to six-try romp for the three-time southern hemisphere championship title winners.
A 16-point haul from five conversions and two penalties lifted Springbok flyhalf Morne Steyn to 148 points for the season -- 15 behind the Chiefs' Anscombe.
Western Force again foiled the Reds in a fighting draw in Perth to deny the former champions the chance to lead the Australian conference.
The Force, who upset the 2011 champions 19-12 in Brisbane in round five in March, again blunted the big-name Reds with their committed defence.
It finished a try apiece as defence dominated with the Reds drawing level through a scrambling try from replacement back Chris Feauai-Sautia with seven minutes left.
Wallaby contender Israel Folau was outstanding as the Waratahs took just 19 minutes to secure a four-try bonus point and lead the hapless Kings 46-10 at half-time.
Newcomers Kings had beaten the Force and Rebels and held the Brumbies to a draw but they never stood a chance of extending their run against Australian opposition as the Waratahs ran riot.
At North Harbour Stadium, the Stormers scored the only two tries of the match through captain Jean de Villiers but it was not enough as Blues flyhalf Chris Noakes booted a club record six penalties to get the New Zealanders over the line.
The Blues' first win over the Stormers since 2009 kept them in touch with the Chiefs, while the Highlanders fought back from 15-7 down at halftime to edge the Sharks at home and end a run of eight consecutive losses.