Sydney (AFP) - The Canterbury Crusaders stacked up their 10th-straight win as New Zealand continued on a Super Rugby rampage at the weekend, leaving South African and Australian teams scattered in their wake.
The unbeaten seven-time champion Crusaders, even without key All Black forwards Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock, minced South Africa's Northern Bulls 62-24 in Pretoria to hold on to their lead in the fiercely-competitive New Zealand conference.
It was the Crusaders' second-biggest victory margin this year after a 50-3 rout of the Japanese Sunwolves. They have totted up 167 points in their last three games, all against South African opposition.
The Christchurch outfit top the New Zealand standings by four points from the Waikato Chiefs, with defending champions the Wellington Hurricanes a further four points back with a game in hand.
"We were really fired up for this match as the team has struggled to win at Loftus," skipper and flanker Matt Todd said, referring to the Crusaders' last win in Pretoria nine years ago.
"Facing the Bulls, we needed early momentum and achieved that goal. However, our victory was not as easy as the scoreline suggests."
It was yet another masterclass from the benchmark Super Rugby team, hammering the hapless Bulls 10 tries to three, prompting local pundits to call for the head of Bulls' coach Nollis Marais.
The Chiefs kept in touch of the high-flying Crusaders with a bonus-point 46-17 win over the Queensland Reds in New Plymouth, marking the successful return of Charlie Ngatai.
Ngatai was out of action for 12 months with concussion issues but showed no sign of rust on his return to join a logjam of talent vying for a start in the All Blacks midfield when the British and Irish Lions arrive next month.
There were concussion issues for All Blacks hope Sonny Bill Williams as the Auckland Blues staved off the fast-finishing NSW Waratahs 40-33 in Sydney.
Double World Cup-winning centre Williams left the field for a head injury assessment just before half-time and never returned.
- Lions roar past Rebels -
Defending champions Wellington Hurricanes held off a fightback from South Africa's Western Stormers to extend their winning home run to 11 matches.
The Hurricanes scored seven tries to one in the 41-22 victory, including two each for Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape, to inflict the Stormers' fourth-straight loss.
The Otago Highlanders capped a sensational weekend for Kiwi teams with an incredible comeback to squeeze a 45-41 win over the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Trailing by 17 points in the 76th minute, the Highlanders rushed in three tries to stretch a winning streak to six matches, a feat they last achieved in 2005.
South Africa's red-hot Golden Lions posted their biggest win in Australia with a thumping 47-10 victory over the Rebels in Melbourne.
The Johannesburg-based Lions hammered the hapless Rebels seven tries to one for their seventh-straight win and further extended their lead over the Coastal Sharks at the top of the South Africa 2 conference.
The yellow-carding of Western Force centre Curtis Rona cost his side dearly as they lost 37-12 to the Sharks in Durban.
The Jaguares of Argentina snapped a four-match losing streak with a come-from-behind 46-39 victory over the Sunwolves in Buenos Aires.
Australia's ACT Brumbies and South Africa's Southern Kings had byes this weekend.