Sunwolves' Derek Carpenter tries to tackle Stormers' Scarra Ntubeni during their Super Rugby match on April 8, 2016 in Cape TownSunwolves' Derek Carpenter tries to tackle Stormers' Scarra Ntubeni during their Super Rugby match on April 8, 2016 in Cape Town (AFP Photo/Rodger Bosch)
Sydney (AFP) - South Africa's Western Stormers and two-time New Zealand winners Waikato Chiefs pushed their Super Rugby title claims this weekend as holders Otago Highlanders became the Queensland Reds first victims of the season.
The Stormers extended their record to 5-1 this year with a 46-19 triumph over Japan's win-less Sunwolves in Cape Town, while the Chiefs squeezed home 29-23 over the Auckland Blues in their New Zealand derby in Hamilton.
Australia's Reds clung on for their first victory of the season and ended Otago's five-match winning sequence with a 28-27 win in Brisbane.
Seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders produced a great escape to knock over the hapless Western Force 20-19 in Perth, while winger Julian Savea scored a hat-trick of tries in the Hurricanes 40-22 victory over Argentina's Jaguares in Wellington.
The Golden Lions replaced fellow South African side Coastal Sharks as Africa 2 conference leaders with a 24-9 win in Durban and the Northern Bulls tossed aside the inept Southern Kings 38-6 in Port Elizabeth.
Australian trio ACT Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels and NSW Waratahs along with South Africa's Central Cheetahs all had this weekend off.
The Sunwolves, now without a win in six games in their debut Super Rugby campaign, were reduced to 14 men by the red-carding of lock Timothy Bond.
Fly-half Jean-Luc du Plessis displayed exceptional footwork to score the Stormers seventh and final try to seal a bonus point.
The Chiefs had to dig deep to avoid an upset loss to the Blues in a frantic New Zealand derby.
Waikato scored five tries to two but the game was in the balance until the dying minutes, when All Black lock Brodie Retallick's try capped a superb return from injury.
The result takes the Chiefs winning streak to five matches, cementing their place at the top of the New Zealand conference and confirming their status as the form team of this year's competition.
In Brisbane, the Reds outplayed the Highlanders in the first half to lead 22-6 and extended the advantage to 28-6, but it was all hands to the pump for much of the second half as the Kiwi champions roared back to just miss out.
It was the Reds' sixth straight win at home over the Highlanders.
The Crusaders were the dominant side for most of their match with the Force, but found themselves staring down the barrel of a shock defeat when they trailed 19-13 with just two minutes of play remaining against a side with only one win from its previous six outings.
But just when all seemed almost lost Jordan Taufua barged over close to the posts for Richie Mo'unga to convert and snatch the lead.
In Wellington, Savea bounced back from public humiliation over his lack of fitness with a swag of tries for the Hurricanes.
In the first outing for the All Blacks' star after being put on an intensive fitness regime two weeks ago he showed signs of his blockbusting best, breaking the game open with a touchdown double just on halftime.
The Hurricanes outscored the Jaguares six tries to three, with the bonus-point try scored by replacement prop Ben May on fulltime.
The Lions survived intense early pressure to lead 18-6 at half-time in a match against the Sharks that produced virtually no momentum due to countless reset scrums, penalties and unforced errors.
The Bulls kept the Kings scoreless when reduced to 13 men and ultimately cantered home after having lock RG Snyman and tighthead prop Marcel van der Merwe sin-binned for professional fouls during the first half.