A late Jordan Taufua try sealed a dramatic 20-19 victory for the Crusaders over the Western Force in Perth on Friday.
In a match which ebbed and flowed for most of its latter part, the Force thought they had done enough to secure an unlikely victory after Ryan Louwrens crossed for a try in the 60th minute but Taufua's late heroics secured a fifth successive win for the seven-time champions.
The Crusaders dominated the territorial and possession stakes for large periods but poor decision-making and several unforced errors nearly led to their downfall.
The result means the Crusaders are now level in third place with the Highlanders in the New Zealand Conference standings with 22 points from six matches although the defending champions can move in to second place if they beat the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.
The men from Christchurch made a bright start and raced into a 5-0 lead when Mitchell Drummond crossed for an easy try after gliding through a gap close to the Force's try-line.
The home side struck back shortly afterwards via a penalty from Peter Grant but Richie Mo'unga cancelled that effort out with a three-pointer from the kicking tee which meant the Crusaders led 8-3 by the 12 minute.
Three minutes later, Grant narrowed the gap to two points with another penalty and for the next 15 minutes the Crusaders stepped up a gear on attack but several handling errors meant they had nothing to show for their enterprising efforts.
They were eventually rewarded on the half-hour mark when Johnny McNicholl rounded off after the ball went through several pairs of hands in the build-up deep inside the Force's 22.
That meant the visitors led 13-6 at the interval but Grant narrowed the lead to four points with his third penalty shortly after the restart and by the 53rd minute it was a one-point game when he landed another three-pointer from the kicking tee.
Although the Crusaders were dominating, they committed far too many errors and midway through the second half Junior Rasolea gathered a Ben Volavola knock on, close to the halfway line, before setting off towards the visitors's tryline.
He was hauled in by the cover defence, but offloaded to Matt Hodgson, who knocked the ball backwards after taking a big hit from Mo'unga close to the Force tryline but Louwrens was on hand to gather before crossing for the try which gave his side the lead for the first time.
The Crusaders stepped up a gear in a bid for victory but battled to breach the Force's defensive lines.
In the 70th minute, McNicholl came close to narrowing the gap, and scoring his second try, but he couldn't gather a cross-field kick from Mo'unga in front of the Force's try-line.
With time running out, the Crusaders launched several attacks deep inside the Force's 22 until Taufua showed great determination and superb leg-drive as he burst through three tackle to clinch victory in the 79th minute.
Pens: Grant 4
Tries: Drummond, McNicholl, Taufua
Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Junior Rasolea, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pekahou Cowan
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Rory Walton, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Kyle Godwin, 23 Albert Nikoro
Crusaders: 15 Ben Volavola, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Jone Macilai
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser, Graham Cooper
TMO: Ian Smith
By David Skippers