Crusaders beat valiant Lions
Josh Strauss (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - All Blacks star Dan Carter had a quiet first start of the season for Crusaders as they took control in the second half to defeat Lions 23-13 in their Super Rugby clash on Saturday.
The best fly-half in the world ceded the place-kicking duties to inside centre Tom Taylor, who succeeded with five of six shots at goal before a small Coca-Cola Park crowd given the seven-time champions were in town.
But Carter, sidelined by a groin injury during the triumphant march of New Zealand to the World Cup title at home last October, played a role in both Crusaders tries.
As the visitors menacingly moved the ball wide on 31 minutes, Carter reversed the flow with an inside pass to left wing Zac Guildford, who caught the Lions defence napping as he sprinted over for a try.
Taylor converted to give Canterbury an undeserved 10-6 lead as the Lions had been the dominant force and they finally made advantages in territory and possession tell when prop Patric Cilliers dived over for a try.
Fly-half Butch James added the extra points for a 13-10 half-time lead the Lions lost three minutes after the break when Carter was involved in a handling move that ended with Sean Maitland racing on to a grubber kick and scoring.
Taylor converted again and added two penalty goals, while James was well off target with a stoppage-time penalty attempt that he needed to score from to give the Lions the bonus point that their perspiration warranted.
Carter, who came off the bench in a victory over South African visitors Central Cheetahs in Christchurch last weekend, quit unharmed on the hour mark, with Ryan Crotty taking his place.
Another All Blacks icon, injured captain and flank Richie McCaw, has yet to play this season, but in his absence, the likes of man of the match Kieran Read and fellow back-row forward George Whitelock impressed.
"It was a really hard game and we had to dig deep in the second half to gain the ascendancy," admitted a smiling but breathless skipper Read, after a match staged 1,800 metres above sea level.
"We got close but not close enough," confessed Lions captain and flank Josh Strauss. "After a good first half we let ourselves down in the early stages of the second half."
Taylor kicked three penalties and two conversions for the visitors, who were winning for the third time in five outings, while James kicked two penalties and a conversion for a Lions team suffering their fourth consecutive loss.
The Crusaders picked up four points for their victory and moved into third position in the New Zealand Conference and sixth in the Overall standings.
The Lions left empty-handed and stayed bottom of the South African Conference and slipped to 14th in the Overall log.
In next weekend's Round 7 action, the Crusaders visit Loftus Versfeld to play the Bulls, while the Lions travel to Bloemfontein to face the Cheetahs.
15. James Kamana, 14. Deon van Rensburg, 13. Jaco Taute, 12. Alwyn Hollenbach, 11. Andries Coetzee, 10. Butch James, 9. Tian Meyer, 8. Warren Whiteley, 7. Joshua Strauss (captain), 6. Derick Minnie, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Marius Coetzer, 3. Patric Cilliers, 2. Callie Visagie, 1. Caylib Oosthuizen
Substitutes: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Stephan Greeff, 19 Cobus Grobbelaar, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Lionel Mapoe
15. Israel Dagg, 14. Sean Maitland, 13. Robert Fruean, 12. Tom Taylor, 11. Zac Guildford, 10. Dan Carter, 9. Andy Ellis, 8. Kieran Read (captain), 7. Matt Todd, 6. George Whitelock, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Luke Romano, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Corey Flynn, 1. Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16. Quentin MacDonald, 17. Ben Franks, 18. Tom Donnelly, 19. Luke Whitelock, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Ryan Crotty, 22. Tom Marshall