The Canterbury Crusaders escaped with a 31-29 win over the ACT Brumbies as they maintained New Zealand’s unbeaten start to the trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition in a clash that went down to the wire in Christchurch on Saturday.
After trailing 19-7 at half-time the Brumbies fought back and were in with a chance to snatch a draw when Rob Valetini scored in the last play of the game.
But Noah Lolesio’s chance to level the score with a sideline conversion drifted just left of the uprights.
While the contest between the New Zealand champions and the beaten finalists in Australia had its moments it was largely an untidy affair until a helter-skelter finish that produced four tries in the closing 20 minutes.
The scrums were messy and contributed most of the 11 penalties in the first half, and both sides lacked the composure shown last week in their domestic super rugby finals.
The narrow victory followed the Otago Highlanders over-running the Australian champion Queensland Reds while the Wellington Hurricanes beat the NSW Waratahs by margins of 21 and 16 points respectively on Friday.
With Australian rugby facing a reality check against the bottom two New Zealand sides and the Brumbies still hurting from losing the Australian final after the bell, the visitors were expected to be highly motivated.
They were outplayed in the first half but did not disappoint in the second as the Crusaders wilted.
“We had some tired legs from last week but you can’t blame that,” Crusaders midfielder David Havili said.
“It’s a new competition and we’ve got to step up. It wasn’t good enough but we came away with the win.”
Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa said their mindset was to attack from the outset and it was frustrating to finish just short.
“I’m definitely proud of the effort, especially the fight that we showed in the second half to put us back in the game,” he said.
“But obviously the boys are disappointed with the loss. We came here to win.”
Two missed touchfinders by the Brumbies in the opening exchanges allowed the Crusaders to counter-attack until the defence was so stretched Ethan Blackadder was able to run 22 metres to the line for the opening try.
When the Brumbies scored a converted try to Scott Sio to take a 7-5 lead, the Crusaders countered immediately.
The Brumbies fluffed the restart and from the resulting scrum Richie Mo’unga went around three would-be defenders in a 30-metre run to score under the posts and Havili followed with a 40-metre intercept try.
In the third quarter an Irae Simone try converted by Lolesio who also added a penalty closed the gap to 19-17.
The Crusaders came back with converted tries to Brendon O’Connor and Cullen Grace to lead 31-17, only for the Brumbies to control the closing minutes which produced tries to Tom Banks and Valetini.