WELLINGTON – Crusaders outmuscled Hurricanes in their top-of-the-table clash Friday for a 24-13 win that puts them in pole position to qualify in top spot for the finals.
The Crusaders scored three tries to one in driving rain, with the conditions forcing two of the competition's most potent attacking sides into an arm-wrestle.
The Hurricanes and Crusaders have traded the New Zealand conference lead all season but the reigning champions' victory in Christchurch could prove decisive.
It snaps a 10-match winning streak for the Hurricanes and extends the Crusaders' run to nine consecutive victories, putting them on 51 points to the Hurricanes' 59.
"It wasn't pretty at times but we just did what we had to, looking after the ball and keeping the scoreboard ticking over," captain Matt Todd said.
Hurricanes skipper Brad Shields said the Wellington team's season was far from over after only two losses in 12 matches this season.
"This could be a turning point for us, maybe it's something that we needed," he said.
"We'll go back to the drawing board and make sure we do better next week."
There was no score in the first 20 minutes as both sides committed handling errors in the wet, with Crusaders fly-half Richie Mo'unga missing a penalty straight in front of posts.
The Hurricanes penalty count mounted as they dominated possession but were continually frustrated by resolute Crusaders defence and their own poor discipline.
Scott Barrett made the breakthrough for the Crusaders in the 23rd minute, forcing his way over from a lineout drive, with Mo'unga adding the conversion.
Jordie Barrett hit back for the Hurricanes with a long-range penalty from the half-way line, then Beauden Barrett kicked another just before half-time to make it 7-6 to the home side at the break.
David Havili crossed the line shortly after the restart but was held up by Julian Savea, with the hosts settling for a Mo'unga penalty.
Michael Alaalatoa extended the Crusaders' lead with a converted try from a lineout and Heiden Bedwell-Curtis added another off the back off a dominant scrum as the hosts took control at 24-6.
A darting run from Reed Princep gave the Hurricanes a converted try to narrow the gap but it proved too late to trigger a comeback.