Seven time Super Rugby champions the Crusaders held on to beat the Brumbies 17-13 at AMI Stadium in Christchurch in the opening round.
The Crusaders outscored the Brumbies by three tries to one and were holding on at the end but ultimately the Brumbies had left it too late.
The result means that with the exception of the Highlanders who lost to the Chies, the New Zealand teams are unbeaten after Round one with all but the Crusaders picking up bonus point wins.
A heroic defensive effort in the first forty minutes led to a much-improved attacking display after the break as the Brumbies pushed the Crusaders all the way, only to come up agonisingly short. But there were plenty of encouraging signs in what was a decent display.
The Crusaders made a brisk start to proceedings forcing the Brumbies onto the back foot from the kick-off, roared on by a partisan home support. With slick handling and early possession, a score looked inevitable and it duly arrived in only the fourth minute.
Relentless pressure on the Brumbies line culminated with a stunning Israel Dagg miss-pass, cutting out two midfielders and Brumbies winger James Dargaville who had moved up for a possible interception, freeing Seta Tamanivalu and the big winger crossed in the corner. Richie Mo’unga added the conversion.
The Brumbies needed a response and they got one in the 13th minute. Starved of the ball in the opening quarter the visitors finally strung together some meaningful phases of play, winning a penalty when the Crusaders were adjudged to have not rolled away following a tackle in midfield.
Wharenui Hawera, playing his first match at this level, clumped over the resulting penalty to reduce the arrears to four points.
The hosts were handed an advantage shortly afterwards when the Brumbies were reduced to fourteen as Dargaville was sent to the bin, receiving a yellow card after the TMO had ruled the winger had deliberately contacted Dagg when contesting an aerial ball – what appeared to be a harsh summation of the incident.
Playing a man down it appeared the Brumbies had survived the ten-minute penalty unscathed, but with seconds remaining of the sin bin period the Crusaders struck for their second try of the encounter.
Again, Dagg was heavily involved, the All-Black full-back joining the line with a superbly timed run and off-loading in the tackle to allow number eight Whetu Douglas to force his way over in the corner and hand the Kiwi side a 12-3 half time lead.
With a nine-point deficit to make up the Brumbies began the second half in blistering fashion, working a score inside the opening three minutes. Scott Fardy, who enjoyed an immense game at flanker, started it with a barnstorming break which Joe Powell continued.
The ball was recycled quickly and Powell shifted play to his left allowing skipper Sam Carter to feed Rory Arnold who rumbled over in the corner. Hawera landed a magnificent conversion from the touchline to bring the Brumbies right back into the match.
With their tails up the Brumbies, led by the bullocking Chris Alcock and a tremendous defensive display, kept right in the fixture even after the Crusaders re-established their lead with a third try.
The New Zealanders won a scrum close to the Brumbies line and showed power and technique to push back the visitors scrum, the set-piece disintegrating under the forward momentum allowing Peter Samu to pick up and score.
Mo’unga missed the conversion and later butchered a simple penalty from in front of the posts, sending his effort wide.
In between Hawera landed a medium-range penalty to get the Brumbies within range but they fell just short of the upset win.
Next week the Crusaders travel to Dunedin to play the Highlanders while the Brumbies return home to Canberra where they will host the Sharks.
Man of the match was Israel Dagg who won his 100th Super Rugby cap.
Final Score Crusaders 17 (12) Brumbies 13 (3)
Tries – S.Tamanivalu ,W.Douglas, P.Samu
Con – R.Mo’unga
Tries – R.Arnold
Pen – W.Hawera 2
Con – W.Hawera
Cards – J.Dargaville (yellow 23rd min)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 1:Angus Gardner
Assistant Ref 2:Will Houston
TMO :Ian Smith
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Ereatari Enari, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 David Havili
15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Nic Mayhew
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Leslie Leulua’Iali’I-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Dewet Roos, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Isaac Thompson