Week 11 in Super Rugby had everything. From a pair of hat-tricks, to long-standing streaks being ended, it was a weekend to remember South of the equator.
The 2015 champions put in their best performance since last year's final thanks to their returning superstar, while the new overall leaders of the competition may have unearthed a new star of their own.
With three rounds left until a month break from Super Rugby for the international period, now is the time for players to stand up and catch the attention of their national selectors.
Highlanders bring back memories of 2015, thanks to return of Naholo
In the clash of the round, 2015 champions, the Highlanders, put in their best performance since last year’s knockout rounds, beating the Chiefs 26-13 at FMG Stadium Waikato.
Following a tough month, Jamie Joseph's side made a big statement in the way they managed to shut down the competition's best attacking side on their own patch.
Following 30 minutes dominated by a kicking battle between the sides, the Highlanders notched the first try of the game from an unlikely source in the form of prop Daniel Leinert-Brown. The tighthead scooped up a loose ball in the Chiefs 22 before showing a great turn of speed to sprint through a gap and away from the defenders, handing the visitors a 13-3 lead at the break.
With Charlie Ngatai in the sin-bin for the home side, Joseph’s men took complete control of the match, scoring their second try thanks to more great work from the front row. After being camped on the Chiefs five-metre line, Aaron Smith decided to spread the ball out to the right, where Ash Dixon and Josh Hohneck linked up to set up returning winger Waisake Naholo who smashed through his defender before reaching over to touch down for the try.
The Chiefs were never likely to lie down, hitting back five minutes later with a typically excellent breakaway try. A brilliant move down the left wing which involved most of the backline ended with Ngatai popping the ball to captain Aaron Cruden, who dived over in the corner to cut the deficit to ten.
This game was all about Naholo though, and his second try in the 63rd minute all-but ended the contest. Having broken the same leg which almost cost him his place at the World Cup last year, the Fijian-born winger returned after ten weeks away and looked the part in all-action performance. Securing a number of turnovers at the breakdown, and looking solid under the high-ball, Naholo’s return seemed to spark the Highlanders and he was the beneficiary again of some good build-up play, which led to his second try in the right-hand corner.
Ma’ama Vaipulu’s yellow card condemned the Chiefs to defeat ten minutes from time, but they never stopped fighting and scored their second try in the final moments when debutant Sam Vaka dived over, meaning the hosts eventually lost the contest by 13 points.
Crusaders make it eight wins on the bounce, while the Blues finally prevail on the road
In the opening game of the round, the Crusaders extended their winning run to eight matches after crushing the Reds 38-5 in Christchurch.
Having seen star Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo banned for three matches following a dangerous tackle in their last outing, the Crusaders bought in his countryman Jone Macilai-Tori on the left-wing, and he put in an excellent performance to score a hat-trick.
Macilai notched two tries in the opening eight minutes as the Crusaders flew out of the blocks, showing no ill-effects from their bye week, with Scott Barrett also crossing in a dominant 21-0 first-half performance.
Without one of their own stars in outside centre Samu Kerevi, the Reds were fruitless in attack and weak in defence for much of the match. Kerevi's broken hand has given an opporunity to Campbell Magnay and he did well on debut, scoring the Reds only try after collecting a chip from Jake McIntyre before outpacing the defence.
But it is Todd Blackadder's charges who are now top of the overall standings, and they made sure of their bonus point victory with further tries after the break from Macilai, Jordan Taufua and Codie Taylor.
The Blues finally put their road woes to bed on Saturday, after beating the Kings 34-18 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. The winless away streak had nearly stretched to two years, before Tana Umaga's put in a five-try performance to win on South African soil.
With Rieko Ioane headed off to play Sevens for New Zealand, his replacement Melani Nanai was rewarded with a two-try performance to keep the Blues hopes of a playoff spot alive.
It was Blues captain James Parsons who opened the scoring with a try from a driving maul, before Nanai's quickfire double just before the half-hour mark helped the visitors to build a 19-10 advantage at the break.
Kings hooker Edgar Marutulle has been a constant standout for the struggling franchise all season, and his try in the 54th minute bought the hosts within seven points of their opponents.
That was as close as they got though, with Blues replacement scrum-half Billy Guyton playing a starring role in the final 20 minutes to close out the win. Guyton's first big influence on the game saw him scoring his own try ten minutes from time, before he then supplied an audacious offload behind his back to Tevita Li in the final minute, allowing the winger to scorch through the defence and over for the bonus point try.
Brumbies and Waratahs secure scrappy wins as battle for Australian Conference hots up
There is now just three points covering the top three teams in the Australian conference as the race for the automatic playoff spot heats up.
On Friday, the Brumbies ended the Bulls five-game winning run by beating them 23-6 in Canberra to leap to the head of the Australian division.
In a first-half with little in the way of incident, the home side opened up a 9-3 lead thanks to the kicking of Christian Lealiifano, with Francois Brummer knocking over the Bulls three points.
After Brummer cut the gap to three, the Brumbies crossed for the game's first try when an excellent backs move off the back of a solid set piece saw Nigel Ah Wong slice his way through the Bulls covering defence.
The hosts then added a second try ten minutes later when scrum-half Tomas Cubelli sniped over in the corner, edging the score out to 23-6, which is how it stayed for the remainder of the game.
The Waratahs kept up the pressure on the Brumbies with a less-than-convincing 21-6 over South African opponents of their own, the Cheetahs.
First half tries from Reece Robinson and Bernard Foley gave the home side a commanding 18-6 lead at the break, but they failed to slam home their advantage in the second period against a tiring Cheetahs side who offered very little.
The Tahs missed out on what could be a crucial bonus point after scoring just two tries in Sydney, which cost them top spot in Australia. In the dying embers of the game it looked as though they had grabbed their third score, only for the referee to consult with the TMO, who correctly ruled that Michael Hooper's pass in the build-up was forward which bought an end to a disappointing encounter.
Brache ends barren run with Tokyo hat-trick, while Sharks topple Hurricanes in Durban
The Sunwolves failed to make it back-to-back home wins, after suffering a 40-22 defeat against the Force at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium.
Having fallen behind early on following Akihito Yamada’s third minute try, the Force hit back to score 26 unanswered points in a first-half which laid the foundations in ending their seven match losing run.
Winger Marcel Brache was carrying an unwanted record with him going into the game, having failed to score in all 33 of his previous Super Rugby matches. That statistic came crashing down in Tokyo, when Brache scored three tries in the space of 13 minutes which included a well-timed interception.
Brynard Stander added the Force’s fourth try in the 26th minute, with fellow back-rowers Ben McCalman and Angus Cottrell adding five-pointers after the break.
The Sunwolves certainly weren’t outplayed, and in fact won the second half, scoring three tries through Tusi Pisi, Derek Carpenter and Yamada, with the left-winger now sitting at the top of the overall try scoring list in Super Rugby this season following his seventh effort of the campaign.
In Durban, the Hurricanes could not back up their 50-point win over the Lions last weekend, losing 32-15 to the Sharks on the second leg of their South African tour.
The teams were tied 8-8 at half-time, after the Sharks JP Pietersen crossed late in the half to reply to Reggie Goodes opener for the Hurricanes.
The Sharks came out much the stronger in the second period, scoring tries through Pietersen, Michael Claasens and Daniel du Preez to lead 32-8 late on, but the home side could not hold on to their bonus point after allowing James Marshall to score an easy try under the posts in the 76th minute for the disappointing Canes.