Johannesburg (AFP) – Defending champions Canterbury Crusaders scored two tries within three minutes to defeat Golden Lions 14-8 in Johannesburg Sunday in a repeat of the 2017 Super Rugby final.
It was the match with the fewest points in the competition this season, but also one of the most gripping as two southern hemisphere rugby heavyweights slugged it out.
After trailing 5-0 by half-time at Ellis Park, the New Zealanders won the match through tries in quick succession by skipper Sam Whitelock and Jack Goodhue.
The lock and centre struck after 50 and 53 minutes and Mitchell Hunt converted both before a small Easter holiday crowd in the South African financial capital.
It was the fourth win in six outings for record eight-time champions Crusaders and took them joint top of the New Zealand conference with Wellington Hurricanes.
Despite suffering a third loss in four matches, Lions lead Western Stormers and Coastal Sharks by seven points in the South Africa standings.
Melbourne Rebels top the Australia conference with 20 points after seven rounds, six more than the New South Wales Waratahs.
Following recent home wins over Stormers and Northern Bulls, Crusaders completed a hat-trick over South African opponents by taming the Lions.
“Playing in Johannesburg is hard on the lungs, body and mind and we did well to overcome the Lions,” said All Blacks veteran Whitelock.
“It is always tough playing in South Africa and we had to be really smart today against quality opposition.”
Lions skipper Franco Mostert, deputising for injured loose forward Warren Whiteley, offered no excuses.
“The Crusaders wanted to win this match a little bit more than we did, so let us give all the credit to them.”
Lions claimed the lone score of the first half on 14 minutes through a try from Democratic Republic of Congo-born Madosh Tambwe, who finished off slick handling with a try.
Crusaders’ leading try scorer George Bridge crossed the line twice, but both scores were ruled out for forward passes by Hunt.
The introduction off the bench of huge winger Manasa Mataele in the second half gave the visitors extra pace and power and relentless pressure paid off.
Whitelock dived over and Hunt converted from close to the touchline to give Crusaders a 7-5 lead.
That advantage stretched to nine points when a break by Mataele set up Goodhue to score near the posts and Hunt converted.
An Elton Jantjies penalty on 77 minutes trimmed the deficit to six points and earned Lions a losing bonus point.
The Lions stay in Johannesburg next weekend for a clash with Stormers while Crusaders make the long journey to Buenos Aires for a match against the unpredictable Argentine Jaguares.