The Auckland Blues showcased their title credentials, the ACT Brumbies displayed signs of being a serious threat and the Canterbury Crusaders proved they are not a spent force as the top three pulled clear in Super Rugby Pacific over the weekend.
In a high-scoring round, when three sides scored more than 50 points, the rampant Blues led the way with a 71-28 thrashing of Melbourne Rebels.
The Brumbies won their third straight game against a New Zealand side with a 38-28 victory over the Waikato Chiefs and the Crusaders overcame a Covid invasion to beat the Western Force 53-15.
Whether the Brumbies are serious contenders or destined for a minor medal will become clearer in the next two weeks when they play the Crusaders then the Blues.
In the race to fill the remaining berths for the play-offs, the Chiefs cling to fourth over the NSW Waratahs who have the same number of points, seven behind the Crusaders and one ahead of the Queensland Reds who slipped to sixth after losing to the Otago Highlanders.
The Wellington Hurricanes and Highlanders round out the top eight.
The Blues were rocked by the Rebels at the start of their clash in Auckland on Friday night when the Melbourne side scored two converted tries in the opening five minutes.
But it was one-way traffic from there as the Blues posted 47 unanswered points to lead 47-14 at half-time before the Rebels tightened their defences to slow the onslaught after the break.
It was a step up for the Blues who had been unconvincing in recent weeks.
Despite the runaway scoreline, Blues captain Dalton Papalii was not overly happy.
"Some games we defend really well but the attack is not there. This game we attacked well but there wasn't much defence. We have to find the balance," he said.
The Blues moved to 45 points with 10 wins from 11 games, two points ahead of the Brumbies who have the same win-loss record and six ahead of the Crusaders.
The Brumbies backed up from beating the Highlanders and Hurricanes in the past fortnight by downing the Chiefs.
There were four tries apiece, with the difference coming from Noah Lolesio who landed four penalties to punish ill-discipline from the Chiefs.
- 'A good story line' -
"Really proud of that effort," a delighted Brumbies captain Nic White said.
"We'd spoken about the intensity we'd have to go up. We've had a couple of good wins (over New Zealand sides) but they were at home. It's very tough to come away and win."
The Crusaders, written off in many quarters after losing two of their past three games, responded by putting more than 50 points past the Force.
This despite a Covid-19 outbreak which forced the late withdrawal of four players.
Coach Scott Robertson described suggestions that the dominance of the 12-times champions was waning as "a good story line" and he was thrilled with the response.
"People want that headline and that’s part of it. We expect it," he said.
"We've had a lot going on, but the guys that came in and performed tonight were really brave and did it with heart."
The Highlanders produced their third win and edged into the top eight with their 27-19 win over the Reds in Brisbane.
Despite playing for part of the first half with only 13 men, the Highlanders trailed by just two points at half-time and hit the lead in the final quarter when replacement scrum-half Folau Fakatava engineered two late tries.
Ten points from the boot of former Brumbies and now Moana Pasifika fly-half Christian Lealiifano saw him become only the seventh player to pass 1,000 points in Super Rugby.
But it was not enough to save his side who surrendered a 17-0 lead against the Waratahs and lost 26-20.
The Hurricanes became the third side to post more than 50 points when they whipped the hapless Fijian Drua 67-5 on Sunday.