(Reuters) - The Canterbury Crusaders continued their series of great escapes with a 33-24 comeback win over the Auckland Blues in their Super Rugby match in Christchurch on Friday.
Trailing 21-5 at half-time, the Crusaders’ forwards lifted their work-rate and late tries to Mitch Hunt and Mitchell Drummond ensured the home side maintained their perfect start to the season.
The Crusaders have now conceded big leads in three successive matches but roared home in all of them.
Flyhalf Hunt slotted a penalty after the siren to give them a last-gasp win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane last week, and the team rallied from a 21-point deficit to beat the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin the week before.
The Blues flew out of the blocks, with inside centre George Moala scoring a brace of tries in the first half.
Winger Matt Duffie was a livewire, setting up a number of attacking forays and scrumhalf Augustine Pulu scored the second try half an hour into the game.
But the Blues’ hopes of a first win in Christchurch in 13 years were gradually ground to dust after the break and they have now lost three of their first four matches.
The Crusaders had their first try from winger Manasa Mataele in the 25th minute but ramped up their game when loose forward Peter Samu crossed for their second 10 minutes into the second half.
Replacement prop Ben Funnell rumbled over at the back of a rolling maul six minutes later after the Blues finally collapsed under pressure from a string of penalties near their try-line.
Blues flyhalf Piers Francis, who replaced the demoted Ihaia West, missed a regulation penalty to give the Blues breathing space and the Crusaders duly capitalised.
After another rumble towards the line from their forwards, Hunt darted over near the right corner and converted his try to put the Crusaders in front in the 72nd minute.
The Blues’ resistance was broken, and their demoralised defence fell away, allowing replacement scrumhalf Drummond to scoop up the ball from a ruck, feign a pass and leap over the line in the last minute to wrap up the win.
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly