Crusaders survive rousing Rebels display
Tom Taylor kicked the Canterbury Crusaders out of trouble as the seven-times Super Rugby champions ground out a narrow 30-26 win over a spirited Melbourne Rebels in Christchurch on Sunday.
Inside centre Taylor slotted six penalties and a conversion as the Crusaders rallied from five points down with 20 minutes remaining to see off the Rebels, who were inspired by strong displays from Wallaby duo Scott Higginbotham and James O’Connor.
The win was the Crusaders fifth from nine matches this season with their replacements proving too strong for their Melbourne counterparts, who gave away a series of crucial penalties late on at scrum time.
“We just needed to work away, work away and wear them down and eventually we got penalties and control of the game,” Crusaders captain George Whitelock said afterwards.
“We started well but then we took our foot right off the throat and let them back in. Our defence was pretty passive tonight.”
Winger Zac Guilford scored the Crusaders opening try after three minutes when he beat three men to touch down in the corner, rounding off a neat break by the hosts from turnover ball.
Fragile Rebels defending allowed flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal to step through and score a second try ten minutes later, Taylor added the conversion with All Black flyhalf Dan Carter on the bench.
O’Connor put the Rebels on the board by slotting a penalty from in front of the posts before the visitors showed they were just as capable at counter-attacking with a brilliant try of their own.
After the Crusaders failed to find their jumpers at a lineout in the visitors 22, the Rebels broke through winger Cooper Vuna before they switched play from left to right and captain Higginbotham crashed over.
O’Connor missed the conversion but slotted a penalty with Taylor adding two kicks of his own to send the teams into the break with the home side 18-11 ahead.
O’Connor and Taylor traded further penalties before the flyhalf scored a brilliant try in the 52 minute, starting the move with a slippery break and then stretching over a few phases later after beating more slack Crusader tacklers.
Jason Woodward missed the conversion but the Rebels were back celebrating another try moments later when hooker Ged Robinson scored in the corner after a short exchange of passes from a lineout five metres out from the Crusaders line.
O’Connor resumed the kicking duties and slotted the conversion from the touchline as the Crusaders called upon Carter for the last 25 minutes to haul them out of a 26-21 hole.
Taylor, though, retained kicking duties as he negotiated a strengthening wind to slot a fourth penalty before Woodward again made a costly mistake.
The fullback missed touch with a penalty and the ball went over the dead ball line giving the Crusaders a scrum in the Rebels half, with the hosts’ pack forcing a penalty which Taylor slotted to put them 27-26 ahead with 10 minutes remaining.
The Crusaders pushed for another try late on as the pack pulverised the opposition before settling for another Taylor penalty as the Rebels claimed a losing bonus point.
“We played some good footy but can’t seem to close,” Higginbotham said. “We had five, six or possibly more penalties in the last 15 minutes and that is something we are going to have to look at.”