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By Jim Morton (AAP)
A 12-year Super Rugby drought is over after Australian sides this weekend claimed a rare 3-0 trans-Tasman drubbing in a heartening sign heading into the British and Irish Lions tour.
The table-topping Brumbies, red-hot Queensland and battling Western Force all combined to turn the tables on New Zealand sides in a round which has reshaped the Super Rugby standings.
The Brumbies, who beat the Highlanders 30-19, and Queensland, upset 31-23 winners over the defending champion Chiefs, started with successes on Kiwi soil before the Force produced the shock of the weekend with a gutsy 16-14 home win over the Crusaders.
The results give Australian teams a remarkable 6-1 advantage in trans-Tasman battles at the midway point of the competition.
The last time New Zealand outfits suffered a three-game whitewash was the penultimate round of 2001 - the season the Wallabies claimed their first series against the Lions before John Eales led them to the Bledisloe Cup.
The All Blacks have had the Bledisloe under lock and key since 2003 and the Wallabies have won just three trans-Tasman Tests from 18 since Robbie Deans took charge in 2008.
The only round eight disappointment for Australian rugby was the Melbourne Rebels conceding a 10-point lead to fall 30-27 to the Southern Kings at home to continue their winless run against South African opponents.
A late ground invasion in Perth, which saw Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty tackle a drunken fan, was another low point but still couldn't sour the 12th-placed Force's celebrations as they triumphed for just the second time in 2013.
The Reds' bonus-point win over the Chiefs (29) helped the Brumbies (33) regain the competition lead and also set up a season-defining clash between the leading sides at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
Brumbies coach Jake White has already started the mind games.
"The Reds must have all the pressure," White said. "The reality is they're at home and they've probably got the best home record of any team in the competition.
"They've got players who have won championships. The pressure will be on everyone but we must not underestimate they must be king favourites, every guy in their starting team is a Wallaby."
White added the Rod Macqueen Cup clash is "about testing ourselves against a team that have been the best, are considered the best, have no injuries, have won the conference two years in a row".
"They've even got a better coaching staff after adding (former Force coach) Richard Graham. They must be better off than they were this time last year."
The South African conference tightened up with the pace-setting Sharks (26) beaten 22-15 by the Stormers (20) while the Bulls (23) ended the Cheetahs' five-match streak with a 26-20 win in Pretoria.
The Blues (27) jumped to fifth with a four-try 28-6 shutout of the Hurricanes in Auckland.
The Western Force return to NIB Stadium for the second time this season and the Honey Badger wants sea of blue fans to “get your carcass on the chair”! In 2014 the Force had a slow start to the season, before finishing off strongly, and they will be hoping for a repeat after winning just one of their opening four matches this season!
The Queensland Reds are struggling with injury and form at present, and they’ve been handed another massive blow this weekend with James O’Connor (leg) & Lachie Turner (concussion) being ruled out. Suffering a 23-5 loss to the NSW Waratahs on the weekend, the Reds will run onto Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night looking to turn their season around after just one win to their name in the opening four rounds coming against the Western Force two weeks ago!