Wellington (AFP) - Israel Dagg led the Crusaders to within two points of the pace-setting Waikato Chiefs as Super Rugby exploded in a weekend try-fest blighted only by the Sunwolves' "embarrassing" meltdown.
Dagg marked his return after a long injury lay-off with two of the Canterbury side's five tries in their 32-15 victory over the Jaguares on Friday.
It launched a 52-try weekend which included hat-tricks for the ACT Brumbies' Joe Tomane and the Central Cheetahs' Sergeal Petersen and Paul Schoeman.
The Cheetahs scored 14 tries in their 92-17 mauling of the Sunwolves as the fledgling Japanese franchise suffered one of the most catastrophic defeats in the history of Super rugby.
The week eight headline act where the Golden Lions overpowered the Western Stormers 29-22 in the battle for South African supremacy, produced only three tries amid an abundance of penalties.
The Chiefs, who had the weekend off, remain at the head of the overall table with 29 points with the Crusaders now on 27 and the Wellington Hurricanes on 25.
But under the tournament system guaranteeing the conference leaders fill the top four places, the Stormers (24), Lions (22) and Brumbies (21) rank second to fourth with the Crusaders and Hurricanes fifth and sixth.
The Otago Highlanders and Northern Bulls, both on 23 and faring better than the Lions and Brumbies, fill the bottom two places among the top eight.
The 49-Test Dagg, who missed the cut for the World Cup squad last year and was then sidelined by a shoulder injury, provided the impetus the Crusaders needed to notch their sixth consecutive win.
- 'Small step' -
However, he downplayed his chances of an international recall.
"I don't want to get too carried away. It was just one small step for me... A step in the right direction," Dagg said.
The Cheetahs would not be getting carried away either as they neared a century of points to down a woeful Sunwolves.
It ranked with the Crusaders 96-19 thrashing of the Waratahs in 2002 and the Northern Bulls 92-3 crushing of the Queensland Reds nine seasons ago as the most lopsided performances in Super Rugby history.
The Sunwolves' capitulation added fuel to recent criticism by England coach Eddie Jones who believed adding teams to the Super competition this year had "really dropped the standards".
Former Springboks coach Nick Mallett agreed the Sunwolves' flop was not a good look.
"It was embarrassing. Imagine what the scoreline could have been if the Sunwolves were playing one of the top New Zealand teams," Mallett said.
- 'Lost heart' -
"The Sunwolves lost heart and belief and gave up long before the final whistle. This match was not a proper reflection of Super Rugby."
Lions' halves Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk played crucial roles in their 29-22 triumph over the Stormers in Johannesburg.
Jantjies scored 19 points from two conversions, four penalties, and a drop goal to move to second on the competition scoring, eight behind the Chiefs' Damian McKenzie.
Scrum-half De Klerk scored a game-breaking try when he came off the bench in the second half and crashed through the Stormers pack touchdown.
The Brumbies rebounded from their recent hiding to the Chiefs by beating the Waratahs 26-20, downing their arch-rivals twice in a season for the first time since 2012.
Tomane bagged his first five-pointer after only seven minutes and although the 'Tahs fought back to lead 17-12 late in the first half they could not hold on.
Beauden Barrett scored two of the Hurricanes six tries as he guided his side to a 38-13 win over the Rebels in Melbourne, while the Northern Bulls touched down five times in their 41-22 win over the Queensland Reds.
The Auckland Blues, in a match dedicated to former lock Kurtis Haiu who died during the week, secured their third win of the season when they beat the Coastal Sharks 23-18.