Sharks' killer run continues atop Super Rugby
OPINION: Jake White must have been grinning all the way back to South Africa.
Taking the Sharks out of Kings Park, the Durban ground known as the Shark Tank, was always expected to be the ultimate litmus test for the men from Natal and now we know the truth.
These Sharks, under the guidance of former Springboks coach White, are zeroing in on the minor premiership.
Not only did they win three of their four matches on the Australasian tour, they also maintained their stranglehold on the top spot on the competition log.
Stranglehold is an appropriate term because that's their game plan in a nutshell.
They once again proved that during Friday night's 29-23 win over the Blues at North Harbour Stadium, where playing pretty isn't a priority.
An unrepentant White has programmed his Sharks to combine smothering defence, questionable tactics at the breakdown and non-stop kicking to get them where they are.
As the Blues, who gave away senseless penalties at crucial times, discovered that isn't likely to change.
The Hurricanes' 45-8 thrashing of the Chiefs in Wellington on Saturday night will have Chiefs coach Dave Rennie asking himself and the squad a multiple of questions before they meet the Waratahs in New Plymouth.
The Chiefs weren't exactly dreadful but when you operate several perthcent below full optimum in this competition you are going to get smacked.
This isn't new territory for the defending champions; they got belted 43-15 by the Crusaders in Christchurch last year and Rennie still managed to get them to re-group and win the title.
He will surely start key playmaker Aaron Cruden against the Waratahs as he tries to stimulate his team.
The Crusaders, who now lead the NZ conference courtesy of their 32-30 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin, turned on their attacking game and unleashed giant wing Nemani Nadolo under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
It took a brilliant Israel Dagg tackle on Patrick Osborne in the final moments for the Crusaders to win.
Wing Osborne, who had brushed aside a Dagg tackle to score earlier, looked to have scored the match-winning try but the Crusaders fullback somehow did enough to force the ball to hit the touchline.
TMO Vinny Munro confirmed the decision.
It was an absorbing encounter with the Highlanders leading 12-10 at halftime before conceding tries to props Tim Perry and Nepo Laulala after the break.
The Highlanders' comeback was spectacular and among the spark plugs who instigated it were Joe Wheeler, Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Ben Smith.
The immensely talented Fekitoa always looked dangerous and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen must be relishing the opportunity to get his hands on him for next month's tests against England.
The Waratahs and Force have signalled to the Brumbies they are also contenders to win the Australian conference following respective victories over the Rebels and Lions in Melbourne.
The Brumbies got bowled 44-23 by the Bulls in Pretoria but it would be foolish to bet against them, given their destiny is still in their own hands.
Their final games are against the Rebels, Waratahs and Force but they also have a bye.The Stormers thrashed the Cheetahs 33-0 in Cape Town.
Outside of South Africa, few cared about the result. Both are out of title contention.
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