JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A try by captain Sam Whitelock proved the catalyst for the Crusaders to break through a stubborn Lions defence and claim a narrow 14-8 Super Rugby victory at Ellis Park on Sunday.
The Crusaders were deserved winners in an entertaining game that belied the low scoreline, with three second-half minutes proving crucial for the visitors as they came from behind to claim an away success.
Wing Madosh Tambwe got the only try of the game for the Lions with flyhalf Elton Jantjies kicking a late penalty, while centre Jack Goodhue also crossed for the visitors and flyhalf Mitch Hunt kicked two conversions.
The match was a repeat of last year’s Super Rugby final at the same venue that was won 25-17 by the New Zealanders and just like that encounter provided much entertainment.
“It’s always hard here, it has been every time I have come since 2010. It’s hard on the lungs, body and mind,” Whitelock said at the post-match presentation. “We have to recover now and get on that plane for the next one against the Jaguares.”
The Lions led 5-0 at halftime, but it was the Crusaders who dominated possession and territory.
The home side scored the opening try on 14 minutes when they took the ball up through the phases and hooker Malcolm Marx released Zaire-born wing Tambwe to sprint clear.
The Crusaders thought they had a try when Hunt floated a long pass out to wing George Bridge, who cantered over, but the Television Match Official ruled the ball had drifted forward.
And the visitors were frustrated once more when Bridge looked to be in from Hunt’s long pass, but the ball was ruled forward again by referee Jaco Peyper.
The visitors continued to apply the pressure at the start of the second period and were eventually rewarded when captain Whitelock barged his way over from close-range for a score that was converted from the touchline by Hunt.
Three minutes later the Crusaders scored their second as replacement wing Manasa Mataele broke through some limp tackles from the home side and offloaded to Goodhue to cross over.
Jantjies kicked a penalty with three minutes remaining to reduce the deficit to six points, the home side’s first points for more than an hour, but they could not force a win in the remaining minutes.
“We had a plan, unfortunately they wanted it more than us. We told the boys to empty the tank, but credit to them, it was a good game,” Lions captain Francois Mostert said.
Reporting By Nick Said; Editing by Toby Davis