The Melbourne Rebels face a season-shaping fortnight that will determine their bone fides as a threat to the Brumbies and in-form NSW Waratahs for Super Rugby’s Australian conference crown.
The Rebels (23 points) dropped from first to third in the Australian conference and fourth to 12th the on the overall ladder after a weekend bye.
They are eight points behind the Hurricanes, who occupy the third and last wildcard spot and in fifth place in the Australasian group.
The Brumbies and Waratahs (both 25) each leapfrogged the Victorian franchise with a comfortable home wins over South African opposition.
Both Australian teams scored two tries to nil, but neither was particularly impressive.
The Brumbies snapped a two-match losing streak with 21-6 win in Canberra on Friday over the Bulls, who lost for just the second time this season.
NSW recorded a third straight win, but ended a three-match home losing run with a 21-6 win over the Cheetahs in Sydney on Saturday.
The Brumbies lead the conference by virtue of having scored one more win than NSW, who for a few brief seconds looked to have earned outright leadership with a crucial bonus point before the TMO scrubbed out a try to Israel Folau for a forward pass in the build-up.
Melbourne host the Brumbies next Friday and then have a daunting fixture away to two-time champions the Chiefs.
The Brumbies will also be especially keen to win next Friday as they have a bye the following week, though the game in hand may not help the Waratahs as they have a tricky away trip to the Crusaders.
The seven-times Super champions made it eight straight wins and moved to the top of the New Zealand conference and Australasian group with a 38-5 blowout of the Queensland Reds in Christchurch.
Winger Jone Macilai crossed for three of the six tries notched by the Crusaders, whose next fixture is a massive match-up against south island rivals and the defending champion Highlanders, who toppled the Chiefs 26-13 in Hamilton.
All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo, last season’s leading Super Rugby tryscorer, crossed twice for the Highlanders in his first match back since fracturing a leg in round one. .
American-born winger Marcel Brache bagged a hat-trick of tries as the Western Force ended a seven-match losing streak and improved their prospects of avoiding successive wooden spoons with a 40-22 win over the Sunwolves in Tokyo.
Just six points separate the top four teams in the New Zealand conference after Kiwi teams experienced mixed fortunes in South Africa.
Springboks wing star JP Pietersen crossed twice for the Sharks in their 32-15 win over the Hurricanes in Durban.
Wing Melani Nanai bagged two tries for the surging Blues, who notched their third straight win, but first on the road in almost two years, with a 34-18 bonus-point conquest of the Kings in Port Elizabeth.