(Reuters) - Canterbury captain Matt Todd scored the only try of the match early in the second half as the Crusaders stayed unbeaten after 11 matches with a 20-12 victory over the Wellington Hurricanes in an enthralling Super Rugby encounter on Saturday.
The Crusaders built their victory over the defending champions and fellow New Zealand powerhouse by starving Wellington’s explosive backs of possession and relying on a dominant scrum to grind down their defiant opponents.
The contest was locked 9-9 at halftime but Todd took the Crusaders clear when the flanker touched down at the front of a driving maul that had rumbled through the Hurricanes defence after 10 minutes of relentless pressure following the interval.
Flyhalf Richie Mo‘unga missed the conversion but he added two second half penalties, to take his tally to five for the match, as the Crusaders delighted a packed home crowd in Christchurch with a hard fought but ultimately deserved victory.
“We didn’t let them get anything going in the set pieces so it’s a credit to our front row,” Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty said in a pitchside interview.
“We knew it needed a massive effort from the boys in defence and we managed to shut them down.”
The match took a while to settle as both sides turned the ball over regularly in the early exchanges before the hosts took the lead in the 12th minute when Mo‘unga slotted home his first penalty after the Hurricanes were guilty of not rolling away.
The visitors hit back almost immediately when Jordie Barrett levelled the scores from close range following an offside call and the fullback added a second penalty from distance to put the Hurricanes 6-3 ahead at the mid point of the first half.
The Crusaders rallied to reclaim the lead as Mo‘unga kicked two more penalties, the second when the Hurricanes’ scrum disintegrated in front of the posts, but Barrett slotted over another kick after the hooter to make it 9-9 at the break.
Despite seeing little of the ball, the Hurricanes wasted a huge opportunity when they trailed 17-12 with 15 minutes remaining, knocking the ball forward from an attacking lineout close to the line after twice turning down kicks at the posts.
The defeat was just the second of the season for the Hurricanes, who remain well in contention for a playoff berth in the Australasian Group after recording eight victories in their first nine fixtures.
Reporting by John O'Brien in Singapore; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly