Christchurch - Crusaders flyhalf Tom Taylor slotted five penalties, two in the final six minutes, to give the seven-times Super Rugby champions a 15-11 victory over the Reds here on Sunday.
Taylor's fifth penalty, with three minutes remaining, came after an error by replacement winger Rod Davis, who got isolated inside his own 22m area and held onto the ball too long.
"We are happy to scrape away with the win," Crusaders captain Kieran Read said in a televised interview. "The performance wasn't there but I guess it's character for the boys and they hung in there."
The Reds had won the last three matches against the Crusaders, and Sunday's game was played with the same intensity as last year's final, which the Reds won 18-13.
Much of the match was played between the 22m areas, and while the home side looked the most dangerous the Reds' defence snuffed out many of their attacking movement.
The Crusaders also dropped too many passes and were heavily penalised at the breakdown as the Reds got men over the ball.
Reds hooker James Hanson scored the only try, created after pressure on Crusaders scrumhalf Andy Ellis forced a turnover in the first minute, while Taylor slotted two penalties for the home side to give them a 6-5 lead at the break.
Reds utility back Mike Harris gave his side the lead again early in the second half when he kicked his first penalty though Taylor responded with his third to give them a 9-8 lead.
Harris slotted his second penalty after replacement prop Wyatt Crockett was sin-binned for a shoulder charge on Reds scrumhalf Will Genia, before Taylor slotted his final two penalties to give the Crusaders the win.
"We did some really silly things and that's what hurt us ... and we gave the Crusaders too much ball and let them off the hook a bit," Reds captain James Horwill said.
"There were a couple of crucial times where things didn't go right for us and that let us down."
Crusaders: Penalties: Tom Taylor (5)
Reds: Try: James Hanson. Penalties: Mike Harris (2).
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZL)
15. Israel Dagg, 14. Sean Maitland, 13. Robert
Fruean, 12. Dan Carter, 11. Zac Guildford, 10. Tom Taylor, 9. Andy
Ellis, 8. Kieran Read (captain), 7. Matt Todd, 6. George Whitelock, 5.
Tom Donnelly, 4. Luke Romano, 3. Owen Franks, 2. Corey Flynn, 1. Ben
Substitutes: 16. Ben Funnell, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Sam
Whitelock, 19. Richie McCaw, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Ryan Crotty, 22. Tom
15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13
Anthony Faingaa, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will
Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 James Horwill
(captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg
Substitutes: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Adam
Wallace-Harrison, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Eddie Quirk, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Rod