CHRISTCHURCH – The Canterbury Crusaders escaped with a 31-29 win over the ACT Brumbies while a clinical Blues crushed the Melbourne Rebels to maintain New Zealand's dominant start to the trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition Saturday.
After trailing 19-7 at half-time in Christchurch the Brumbies fought back and had the chance to snatch a draw when Rob Valetini scored in the last play of the game, only for Noah Lolesio to send the conversion left of the uprights.
The narrow victory followed the Otago Highlanders over-running the Australian champion Queensland Reds while the Wellington Hurricanes beat the NSW Waratahs in a 17-try rollercoaster on Friday.
The Rebels were looking to log back-to-back wins against the Blues for the first time in Super Rugby, but were completely outgunned in a chilly Melbourne, crashing 50-3 to underscore the challenge facing Australian teams against their Kiwi counterparts.
While the contest between the New Zealand champion Crusaders and the Brumbies, who finished second in Super Rugby AU, had its moments it was largely an untidy affair until a helter-skelter finish that produced four tries in the closing 20 minutes.
"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."
The Crusaders attacked from the whistle until the defence was so stretched Ethan Blackadder was able to run 22 metres for the opening try.
And when the Brumbies scored a converted try to Scott Sio to take a 7-5 lead, the Crusaders countered immediately with Richie Mo'unga shaking off three defenders to score, then 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.
But 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.
In Melbourne, the Blues dominated territory and possession in the lopsided six tries to none win.
After a scrappy start, Otere Black nailed a penalty to put the Blues in front only for Matt To'omua to quickly level the scores.
Too many scrums needed to be reset, slowing the action, before Black steered two more penalties through the posts.
Blues fullback Zarn Sullivan converted a long-distance penalty and their relentless pressure finally paid off with Tom Robinson crossing after the hooter for their opening try to send them to the break with a 17-3 lead.
They dismantled the Rebels in the second stanza, exposing the home team's defensive frailties. Big No.8 Hoskins Sotutu barged over for two tries, while Akira Ioane, AJ Lam, and Rieko Ioane grabbed one apiece.