Sydney (AFP) - The unbeaten Canterbury Crusaders won a ninth Super Rugby game this weekend, but the result was soured by an injury to All Blacks skipper Kieran Read.
The rampaging Crusaders squashed the threatened South African team Central Cheetahs 48-21 in Bloemfontein to stretch their lead in the New Zealand conference to four points, but they could be without the influential Read for up to six weeks.
Read left the field just before half-time and later had surgery on a fracture at the base of his right thumb in concerning news for the All Blacks ahead of their looming British and Irish Lions home series.
"Read's anticipated return to play will not be known until post-surgery assessments are done, however surgery of this sort would generally require approximately six weeks of recovery," the Crusaders said in a statement.
It continues a troubled season for the 97-capped Read, who missed the first six rounds of the competition following wrist surgery.
The seven-time Super Rugby champions were too strong for the Cheetahs, running in seven tries to secure a bonus point and remaining the team to beat in the 18-team competition.
It was the seventh loss in nine matches for the Cheetahs, who along with the Southern Kings are expected to be axed in next year's revamped competition.
The Chiefs kept in touch with the Crusaders with an unexpectedly tense 27-20 win over Japan's Sunwolves in Hamilton.
They were denied a bonus point despite the Sunwolves having two players sent from the field in the penultimate move of the game.
For much of the game, the unfancied Sunwolves were the dominant side as they humbled the Chiefs' forwards in the set pieces and floored the Waikato backs with crunching tackles.
- Lions survive scare -
South Africa's leading contenders the Golden Lions survived a major scare from the endangered Western Force to claim their sixth-straight win in Perth.
The Lions were strong favourites against the struggling Force, also threatened by the 2018 season cull, but the game was in the balance until the dying minutes before the Johannesburg-based team prevailed 24-15.
The resurgent Otago Highlanders humbled South Africa's Western Stormers 57-14 for their fifth straight win.
The Highlanders scored nine tries to two, while the Stormers slumped to their third-consecutive loss after winning their opening six matches of the season.
Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley kicked five penalty goals, the last two minutes from time, to give the NSW Waratahs a morale-boosting 29-26 win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.
The Waratahs closed to within four points of Australian conference leaders ACT Brumbies, who were playing New Zealand's Auckland Blues in Canberra later Sunday.
Teenage fly-half Curwin Bosch kicked 18 points as South Africa's Coastal Sharks downed Argentina's Jaguares 33-25 in Buenos Aires.
Success gave the Sharks an eight-point advantage in the standings over the Jaguares with six rounds left as the teams battle for a quarter-finals place.
South Africa's Southern Kings won back-to-back matches for the first time and achieved a record victory margin by trouncing the Melbourne Rebels 44-3 in Port Elizabeth.