Crusaders silence the Lions' roar at Ellis Park
Stand-in captain Ryan Crotty inspired the Crusaders to a 28-7 win over at the Lions at Johannesburg's Ellis Park to reinvigorate their flagging Super Rugby campaign.
With regular skipper and No 8 Kieran Read out with concussion, Crotty, leading the team for the first time, scored a vital try immediately after the halftime break and had another disallowed when referee Marius van der Westhuizen controversially back-tracked on his original decision.
This was the first match the Lions had lost at home this season but the Crusaders would be ill-advised to get too carried away with thinking they had finally turned the corner in what has proved a frustrating campaign.
There were too many scrum penalties - many against the Lions who struggled - and needless turnovers because of poor ball control and sloppy passing for this to be a memorable match and the Crusaders' backline attack still lacks the sting of previous seasons.
Crotty, however, wasn't complaining.
"We are very pleased, the boys were pretty disciplined to the game plan today and I think that served us really well. We played at the right end of the field and put them under pressure down in their half and scored points on the back of that,'' Crotty said.
"I'm pleased in our discipline to execute what we planned.''
A forgettable first-half, which was marred by a succession of penalties (favouring the Crusaders 7-3) and poor execution, resulted in the visitors emerging with a 6-0 lead following two penalties to Colin Slade.
The re-shuffled backline, with Crotty at second-five and newcomer Kieron Fonotia at centre, will take more time to bed-in but is likely to be retained for the next match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Nemani Nadolo, on the left wing, had minimal impact but his chances were limited as the Crusaders opted for a game plan around kicking long to push the Lions back into their own half.
The Crusaders forward didn't lack for vigour, even when they lost No 8 Luke Whitelock with injury in the first spell and made wholesale substitutions in the second spell.
Crotty, no doubt with the messages from coach Todd Blackadder still ringing in his ears, nabbed the opening try immediately after the break when a movement started by flankers Matt Todd and George Whitelock enabled him to bust into the clear and survive an ankle tap before scrambling over the line.
Van der Westhuizen awarded Crotty another try in the 66th minute and first five-eighth Colin Slade was lining up the conversion when the official decided to check with the TMO to check the grounding of the ball.
It was discovered Crotty hadn't got the ball down in the tackles of Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel and it was disallowed.
Minutes later the Crusaders were awarded a penalty which was kicked by fullback Israel Dagg after Slade left the field with what appeared to be a head knock.
Slade's conversion of Crotty's opening try gave the Crusaders a 13-0 lead but the Lions struck back through centre Lionel Mapoe who completed a breakout which featured flanker Willie Britz handling twice.
Lions marksman Marnitz Boshoff, who earlier missed a penalty, hoofed the wide conversion.
The first half was a tepid affair. Slade's first penalty attempt from 42m was wide but his next two, from a similar range, were accurate as he pushed to the Crusaders out to a 6-0 lead inside the 13th minute.
It was an indication of the performances from both sides that the scoreboard operator was then able to take a prolonged rest.
Slade's only other penalty attempt hit the posts and when it bounced back into play the Crusaders had a golden opportunity to score as they attacked the disorganised Lions defensive line but couldn't capatilise.
Boshoff made an unsuccessful long-range drop goal attempt as the Crusaders won the early penalty count 7-3, mostly because the Lions props kept being pinged for incorrect binding in the scrums. The vaunted kicker didn't nail his first points until his wide conversion of Mapoe's try.
The Crusaders, who now have to wait to see if Luke Whitelock and Slade are fit, travel to Bloemfontein to meet the Cheetahs next weekend.
Crusaders 28 (Ryan Crotty, Andrew Ellis, Kieron Fonotia tries Tyler Bleyendaal, Colin Slade cons Slade 2, Israel Dagg pens) Lions 7 (Lionel Mapoe try Marnitz Boshoff con) at Ellis Park. Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen