The Chiefs beat their hosts 18-12 in Durban to make it seven wins in a row, and have kept their margin over the Stormers – who have also only lost one game – thanks to bonus points.
Week nine saw no changes among the top five, with the Chiefs on 35 points followed by the Stormers (33) and ACT Brumbies (26) as the conference leaders ,with the Northern Bulls (33) and Otago Highlanders (30) further back.
The weekend’s big movers were the Canterbury Crusaders who thrashed the Wellington Hurricanes to claim sixth place, while the NSW Waratahs jumped from 10th after the Sharks and Queensland Reds suffered defeats.
Cruden scored 13 points for the Chiefs while the Sharks were restricted to four penalties from Patrick Lambie, underscoring the Chiefs rating as the best defensive side in the competition, leaking only eight tries in eight games.
They also buried their reputation for not travelling well by going three weeks on the road unbeaten, following wins against the Western Force and Central Cheetahs.
The Stormers put behind them last week’s loss to the Crusaders to hold off a strong finish by defending champions Queensland Reds in a 23-13 victory in Brisbane.
The South Africans led 20-3 early in the second half but the Australians fought back to cut the margin to seven points before being denied a bonus point by a Peter Grant penalty on fulltime.
Springbok fly-half Morne Steyn returned to his best goal-kicking form as the Bulls beat Australian conference leaders ACT Brumbies 36-34 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, while the Crusaders continued their mid-season rush up the Super 15 ladder with a 42-14 demolition of the Hurricanes to enter the top six.
In Sydney, three penalties to Brendan McKibbin proved the difference as the Waratahs beat the Melbourne Rebels 30-21.