The Crusaders were made to sweat for their four points on Sunday as the Rebels battled hard before going down 30-26 at AMI Stadium.
The Crusaders were made to sweat for their four points on Sunday as the Rebels battled hard before losing 30-26 at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
It was expected that the New Zealanders would steamroll their opponents, however the Rebels proved that last year's home win was no fluke.
Battling for every scrap of possession and also being impressive in attack through the likes of Jason Woodward, James O'Connor and Scott Higginbotham, the Rebels pushed the hosts all the way but ultimately came up just short.
Tries for the hosts arrived via Zac Guildford – his first since returning from off-field issues – and Tyler Bleyendaal while the Rebels responded through number eight Higginbotham, fly-half O'Connor and hooker Ged Robinson.
Despite their superiority in the try department though, the Rebels were beaten by the boot of Tom Taylor, who kicked 20 points in the game.
The Crusaders opened the scoring in the fourth minute when they broke out from a Rebels attack, with wing Guildford crossing following good drawing work from full-back Israel Dagg.
Things got better for the seven-time champions eight minutes later when fly-half Bleyendaal dummied off a set-piece to go over close to the uprights. This time Taylor was successful before O'Connor made it 12-3 with a quarter of the game played. It was fast-paced opening.
Thus began a lift in the Rebels' game as when Higginbotham powered over on the right touchline after great phase play, head coach Damien Hill would have been purring at the prospect of recording possible back-to-back victories over the New Zealand giants.
With the score now 12-8 to the Crusaders, Taylor and O'Connor traded penalties as the sides went in at the break with a scoreline of 18-11. The match was well-and-truly on.
In the opening ten minutes of the second-half at AMI Stadium the two kickers sent over a shot apiece at goal but when fly-half O'Connor crossed after another sustained period of attacking from the visitors, the Rebels were two points behind. Momentum was with them.
And their form continued soon after as hooker Robinson burrowed over from a well-worked short line-out to put the Melbourne side ahead for the first time in an entertaining match.
O'Connor's conversion made it 21-26 but the Crusaders showed calmness to claw their way to a result as, with Dan Carter and Wyatt Crockett on as replacements, they edged to victory thanks to three more penalties from Taylor that takes them seventh in the standings.
Tries: Guildford, Bleyendaal
Pen: Taylor 6
Tries: Higginbotham, O'Connor, Robinson
Pen: O'Connor 3
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Dan Carter, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Luke Jones, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Angus Roberts, 22 Lachlan Mitchell.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)