The Crusaders have clung to a three-point lead for 33 minutes to beat the Hurricanes 24-21 in a contentious Super Rugby Pacific match that featured seven lead changes.
There were six lead changes in the first half of Saturday’s match in Christchurch and only two scoring plays in the second half, which outweighed the first for drama.
The excitement persisted until the last minute when the Hurricanes had a penalty which would have allowed them to level the match at 24-24 and take it to golden-point extra time. They chose instead to kick for touch in the hope of a match-winning try.
The Crusaders contested the lineout in the air and managed to wrestle the ball from the Hurricanes in what seemed an obvious penalty offence.
But the referee instead found a knock-on by the Hurricanes and blew for fulltime, leaving the Crusaders with a contentious win.
“I’m lost for words,” Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea. “We came out here and wanted to prove a point against the Crusaders who are the best team in this competition.
“Without sounding disrespectful, I’d just like the officials to demand better.”
The ending was unfortunate in a match of such quality. In a highly physical contest, the teams exchanged scores throughout the first half before the Hurricanes went to the break with an 18-17 lead.
The second half was full of action but low on actual scoring. Brothers Ardie and Julian Savea were superb ball-carriers for the Hurricanes but the Crusaders held out their attacks and were able to exert pressure in the Hurricanes’ territory through a dominant scrum.
The Hurricanes extended their lead to 21-17 with a penalty in the fifth minute of the second spell.
But the Crusaders wrested back the lead with a try to backrower Ethan Blackadder which gave them their eventual three-point margin.
“I was glad we hung tight there. We worked and we just hung on,” Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said.