MELBOURNE, March 11 (Reuters) - Flyhalf Mitchell Hunt slotted a penalty after the siren to snatch a 22-20 win for the Canterbury Crusaders over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.
Trailing 20-7 at halftime after losing three players to injury early at Lang Park, the Crusaders rallied brilliantly to keep the Reds scoreless after the break and maintain their perfect record after three rounds of the season.
The Crusaders were down to 14 men in the 68th minute after loose forward Jordan Taufua was sin-binned for a light punch on Reds lock Rob Simmons but replacement scrumhalf Bryn Hall’s second try gave the visitors hope with four minutes to play.
Hunt converted Hall’s try to bring the Crusaders within a point and the Reds duly crumbled under pressure.
The home side tried to wind down the clock with ball in hand but centre Samu Kerevi was penalised for a ruck infringement, allowing Hunt to coolly seal the win with a kick from about 35 metres that split the posts.
The Crusaders have proved masters of the comeback, rallying from a 21-point deficit to beat the Highlanders 30-27 in Dunedin last week.
“We had some injuries but the guys who came on really gave us something,” Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said.
“The boys are really connecting and looking for each other.”
The Crusaders had a nightmare start with playmaker Israel Dagg, winger Seta Tamanivalu and flanker Peter Samu all forced off the pitch in the first half-hour.
The Reds capitalised, with Kerevi barging over for the opening try in the 12th minute and crashing through the Crusaders’ line to set up winger Eto Nabuli for their second 12 minutes later.
Scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond pegged one back for the Crusaders, rolling over the line under a pile of players in the 28th minute.
Quade Cooper slotted a penalty to give the Reds a 13-point buffer at halftime but the home side were rueful after handling errors dashed a series of attacking forays.
They faded badly after the break, allowing Hall a soft try in a raid down the left touch-line in the 63rd minute.
Although a man down, the Crusaders forwards rumbled the ball to the try-line and the enterprising Hall sprung from a ruck to plant the ball at the base of the left post.
Hunt’s final kick condemned the Reds to their second loss of the season and their sixth straight against the New Zealand team.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Ed Osmond