WELLINGTON - David Havili saved the Canterbury Crusaders with a drop goal a minute into extra-time to give the Super Rugby Aotearoa leaders a 30-27 win over the Wellington Hurricanes on Sunday.
The Hurricanes, bottom of the table, led 27-20 in Wellington at the three quarter mark and threatened to inflict a second consecutive loss on the Crusaders who fell to the Otago Highlanders last week.
By the end of regulation time, the defending champions had levelled the score at 27-all, bringing the golden-point rule into play for the second time in New Zealand, and a minute after the restart Havili slotted the match-winning drop goal.
Two early George Bridge tries had the Crusaders ahead 14-3 before the Hurricanes overcame handling issues and made inroads with direct running.
It was tied 17-17 at half-time and the Hurricanes hit the front early in the second half despite being down to 14 men when Ngani Laumape was in the sin bin, but they were unable to hang on.
"We had to dig deep. We just had to hold the ball and be patient," Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said.
"Everyone in this competition is gunning for each other and there's positions up for grabs in the finals and the next few games are not going to get much easier.
But the hard-fought victory came at a cost with All Blacks Josh Goodhue and Joe Moody, who was playing his centenary game for the Crusaders, both leaving the field injured in the first quarter.
The Hurricanes had their moments when Ardie Savea and Dane Coles were on the field, despite losing a costly six lineouts.
But when they were substituted in the second spell, the Crusaders came back into the game.
They had started strongly with Bridge's two tries before Laumape scored for the Hurricanes to start a flurry of points around the half-hour mark.
The Crusaders won a penalty from the restart which Richie Mo'unga slotted only for his captain Barrett to spill the Hurricanes kick-off which resulted in a try for Julian Savea.
While Laumape was in the sin-bin for the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Hurricanes hit the front with a try for Wes Goosen after Ardie Ardea wrong-footed the Crusaders by going down the blind side from a scrum.
Mo'unga and Jordie Barrett traded penalties to have the Hurricanes up 27-20 before Sevu Reece scored under the posts and Mo'unga's conversion tied up the match.