Two late tries saw the Crusaders steal a hard-earned 33-22 win over the Reds in their Super 14 Round Two match at Jade Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.
The Reds were in the lead with seven minutes to go, but tries by Scott Hamilton and replacement Brent Ward - along with a conversion by Stephen Brett - saw the Crusaders secure a bonus-point win.
The first half was an intriguing tactical battle. Reds coach Eddie Jones had made not even the vaguest attempt to hide the fact that his team would look to bulldoze at close quarters - so open was he about it that it might have been a smokescreen.
In the event though, that was precisely what they did, looking to squeeze out the penalties and margins as they did so successfully against the Hurricanes last weekend. Twice in the match, they enjoyed over 20 phases of possession, yet barely made ten metres of gain.
This time, they came up against a much more resilient defence in the Crusaders, a defence which, despite enjoying much less possession, conceded not one penalty between minutes 2 and 32.
During that time, the Crusaders also scored two excellent tries, with young Stephen Brett integral to both. Dan Carter is New Zealand's fly-half king, Brett is the heir apparent. Two of his three clean first-half breaks contained the shimmy-show-go movement of which Carter is so fond, and he has all of the pace and strength of New Zealand's king.
The home team sat on the offside line, moved up together, tackled together, and bided time in patience waiting for the opportunities.
The real difference as far as scoring was concerned was in the support play. Both teams broke several times, but often the Crusaders would get three men to the breakdown where the Reds would only get one.
It must have been particularly frustrating for Reds lock James Horwill, who broke two or three times but found his generated momentum lost in the vacuum where the supporters should have been. Ben Tune also saw a break ruined like that.
The Crusaders back-row - especially Johnny Leo'o and young Kieran Read - was yards faster, and in attack, the team as a whole was more fluid with ball in hand as a result.
When the opportunities came, the Crusaders made the most of them. Brett and Scott Hamilton both had good runs from broken play, and Read might have had a try had Rico Gear's pass not been forward.
Brett himself scored the first try after thirteen minutes, with that Carter-esque movement taking him clean through the defence from about seven metres out. He also converted the try to make it 7-0.
After 32 minutes, Casey Laulala stepped through the defence, and managed to offload inside to the effervescent Corey Flynn. Flynn found Brett inside, whose hands were quick enough to send Ross Filipo galloping off to the posts. Brett made it 14-0 - it could have been 17 but he had missed a penalty.
That was the first half-hour. 60 per cent possession to the Reds, but they had conceded five penalties to the Crusaders' one, and even allowing for the work at the line-out where Horwill and Hugh McMeniman pinched three Crusaders throws, it was that penalty count which was the Reds' undoing.
After that first half-hour, the game turned on its head. Between minutes 32 and 47, the Crusaders conceded seven unanswered penalties, three of which were goaled by Clinton Schifcofske, and one of which was kicked to the corner by Barnes, thrown in by Hardman, caught by McMeniman, and mauled to the line for a try by Greg Holmes.
Then, after 50 minutes, an audacious grubber by Rico Gear struck the foot of Reds' wing Peter Hynes, bounced kindly for the latter, who sped away to give the visitors the lead - the Reds had scored 19 unanswered points in as many minutes.
Finally, the Crusaders reacted with some urgency. Within eight minutes, they had the lead back. After the Reds had conceded a free-kick at a scrum - there were precious few of those right throughout the match - Read's quick tap sent Mose Tuiali'i away, and the big number eight did excellently to push the ball onto the tryline under a mound of bodies. Brett made it 21-19.
Still the Crusaders' discipline of earlier in the match was lacking, and a penalty conceded for hands in the ruck on the hour gave Shifcofske another easy goal to make it 21-22 to the Reds.
So the game was finely balanced after an hour, and still the Reds kept their heads down, and still the Crusaders lived on the edge and waited for the chance.
It finally came with eight minutes to go. A little acceleration in the recycling enabled wide ball on the right for Rico Gear in a bit of space.
After a couple more phases, out the ball came back to the left via Mose Tuiali'i and Stephen Brett to Jake Paringatai, whose excellent timing of the floated pass gave Scott Hamilton the yard of space he needed to get around the back in the corner and score near to the posts; a bonus point try. Brett made it 28-22 with the conversion.
The Reds had a chance for an immediate riposte when the Crusaders conceded a penalty at the restart. Berrick Barnes - much quieter this week than last - kicked for the corner, but the drive was repelled, and a mistake at a ruck enabled the Crusaders to clear.
It was cruel on the Reds and their efforts that they were denied a bonus point by a last-minute try. It came when Brett launched a crossfield kick over a tired defence, and Hamilton found Ward after catching it. Brett missed the conversion to finish with four from six. Not quite Carter. Not just yet anyway.
Man of the match: Both Reds locks James Horwill and Hugh McMeniman played well, as did Hugh McVerry when he came on. Also impressive was Reds full-back Clint Schifcofske. For the home team, Stephen Brett, Campbell Johnstone, Kieran Read and Scott Hamilton all had good games, but it was in the support play that the difference between the two teams was to be found, and there was no better support runner and link-man on the day than Crusaders number eight Mose Tuiali'i.
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Brett, Filipo, Tuiali'i, Hamilton, Ward
Cons: Brett 4
For the Reds:
Tries: Holmes, Hynes
Pens: Schifcofske 4
Crusaders: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Rico Gear, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Rua Tipoki, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Johnny Leo'o, 6 Kieran Read, 5 Kevin O'Neill, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Corey Flynn (c), 1 Ben Franks
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Paterson, 19 Jake Paringatai, 20 Kevin Senio, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Brent Ward
Reds: 15 Clinton Schifcofske, 14 Henari Veratau, 13 Ben Tune, 12 Lloyd Johansson, 11 Peter Hynes, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Nic Berry, 8 John Roe (c), 7 David Croft, 6 Mitch Chapman, 5 Hugh McMeniman, 4 James Horwill, 3 Rodney Blake, 2 Sean Hardman, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Stephen