Crusaders fend off the Rebels' challenge
The Crusaders took another tentative step towards invigorating their Super Rugby campaign with a milestone victory at the Melbourne Rebels, avoiding another embarrassing defeat with a stuttering 25-19 win at AAMI Park tonight.
Facing a 1-win 3-loss record for the first time since 2009, the Crusaders banked back-to-back wins by avenging a shock loss to Australia's newest franchise when they first met in Melbourne two years ago.
Desperate to accrue more competition points ahead of next weekend's bye, the Crusaders alleviated some pressure on head coach Todd Blackadder by following up a tense one-point win over the Stormers with another solid defensive performance.
But after scoring just five tries in their opening three games, the Crusaders again struggled to build offensive fluency.
They did, however, score the only five-pointer of the low-quality encounter against the Rebels when hooker Ben Funnell took advantage of an overlap in the 58th minute.
Tom Taylor then added the sideline conversion to highlight his excellent performance via the kicking tee - he goaled all seven attempts.
The Rebels, mauled 32-7 by the Western Force in the previous round, reinstated the line-up that thrashed the Cheetahs in their season opener and were more resolute defensively as they strived for a fifth straight win on home soil.
However, persistent infringing - particularly at scrum time - enabled the Crusaders, who provisionally improve to eighth, to hold a slender 12-9 lead at halftime on the back of Taylor's accurate boot.
Neither side were able to build any consistent pressure and consequently try-scoring opportunities were at a premium.
The Crusaders' best opportunity followed Wyatt Crockett's decision to tap a close range penalty, but a timely spot tackle by returning wing Tom English on Israel Dagg cleared the danger.
Melbourne's only tangible try-scoring opportunity occurred 10 minutes before the break when Colin Slade - who had a mixed season debut at pivot - had a 22-metre restart charged down by former Wellington openside Scott Fuglistaller.
Dagg carried the ball back to concede a 5m scrum, but the Crusaders pack secured a turnover and then worked their way further out of trouble to at least indicate their defensive structures were aligned.
Taylor extended the Crusaders' lead to six points a minute after the restart though Bryce Hegarty - who took over the kicking duties after Woodward was also on the receiving end of a Read thud - nudged the Rebels within range during an error prone third quarter until Funnell celebrated his first Super Rugby try.
The Rebels turned down a kickable penalty on the hour mark in favour of a lineout 10m out, but a crooked throw by Pat Leafa undermined another rare attacking opportunity before Taylor sealed the win with his sixth penalty.
Fuglistaller, one of the Rebels best, finally broke the Crusaders' defensive line with two minutes to play while Hegarty's conversion secured a bonus point.
Meanwhile, giant Fijian wing Nemani Nadolo made his long-anticipated debut for the Crusaders - first as a blood bin replacement for Nafi Tuitavake late in the first half - before he returned permanently on the left wing when Dagg withdrew with a knee injury and Johnny McNicholl dropped back.
Nadolo did not receive a lot of ball, though encouragingly nor was he exposed defensively.
Crusaders 25 (Ben Funnell try; Tom Taylor 6 pen con) Melbourne Rebels 19 (Scott Fugistaller try; Jason Woodward 3 pen; Bryce Hegarty pen con). HT: 12-9