Tears flowed as the NSW Waratahs gave Super Rugby Pacific a shot in the arm with an upset win over the Canterbury Crusaders while the Auckland Blues remained top of the table but again failed to impress.
Much had been made of how the Australian sides would fare in after the drubbing they took last year from the New Zealand clubs but the Waratahs, ACT Brumbies and Melbourne Rebels all proved the doubters wrong over the weekend.
The front-running Blues held on to beat the Western Force 22-18, their ninth win in 10 matches, and remain a point clear of the ACT Brumbies with the Crusaders third despite their 24-21 loss.
The Waikato Chiefs moved up to fourth with a narrow 27-25 win over the Queensland Reds who are fifth followed by the Waratahs three points further back.
What it meant for the Waratahs, last in 2021, to beat the Crusaders a year later, was evident as fly-half Tane Edmed broke down in tears when the final whistle blew at Leichhardt Oval.
"To get a win like that with these boys, we had such a tough year last year, it was just probably a bit too much emotion for me to handle," said Edmed who grew up in the shadow of the ground where his father played as a prop for rugby league side Balmain Tigers.
"For me to get a win like that, against probably the best team in the world, in front of my friends and family, and on a field I've grown up playing at, was just amazing and I was lost for words."
The Crusaders, plagued by slow starts for much of this year, were down 17-0 at half-time and while they improved after the break discipline proved an issue with a red and yellow card reducing them to 13 men late in the game.
"We are looking for the answer ourselves, to be fair," coach Scott Robertson said when questioned why the 12-times champions were again below their best.
"A lot of simple stuff we pride ourselves on, we didn't get right."
The Blues, having dominated the early rounds of the competition in New Zealand, have struggled in the two weeks of trans-Tasman clashes.
They were flattered by the 35-18 scoreline against the Fijian Drua last week and were even less impressive holding off the Western Force 22-18 this weekend.
They were scoreless in the second half and required a titanic defensive effort to hold off the Force who went through 26 phases in nearly five minutes after the final hooter in Perth in search of a winning try.
- 'Got to be better' -
They were forced to make 214 tackles -- to 119 for the Rebels -- with 29 by flanker and captain Dalton Papalii, and MacDonald said that was not sustainable.
"We've got to be better. We're going to end up getting our key players injured if we're not smarter with the way we're playing."
In Canberra, a strong second half saw the Brumbies power away from the Hurricanes in the closing game on Sunday.
The Hurricanes held a 20-16 lead early in the second half before the Brumbies took command with three tries in 15 minutes to open a 35-20 lead.
The Chiefs, who face the Brumbies next weekend, hung on for a narrow win over the Reds who are the reigning Australia champions.
A key moment came in the second half when Quinn Tupaea ran from his opposite wing to cut down Fraser McReight from scoring a try which would have put the Reds ahead.
The Chiefs countered and raced to the other end which resulted in a try to Gus Sowakula and put the visitors ahead 27-18.
The Melbourne Rebels sneaked into the top eight with a 26-22 victory over Moana Pasifika while in Fiji the Otago Highlanders notched their second win of the season with a 27-24 win over Fijian Drua 27-24.