Rebels win try count three to two
The Crusaders came from behind with a late rally to secure a valuable 30-26 win over the Rebels in Christchurch on Sunday.
Despite being outscored by three tries to two, the Crusaders won through the boot of Tom Taylor - who contributed 20 points, with six penalties and a conversion.
Three of those, in the final quarter, saw the Crusaders come back from being down 21-26 to secure four valuable points and keep their play-off hopes alive.
The match also marked the return of All Black goal-kicking maestro Dan Carter - who has missed the past four weeks because of paternity leave and a hamstring injury - but his performance was overshadowed by Taylor's kicking prowess.
The Crusaders now sit in seventh place, on the cusp of the wildcard placings, while the Rebels' efforts were made in vain as they remain in 12th spot.
The Rebels showed heart, but their set-piece play - particularly the scrums - really let them down as they conceded penalties at crucial stages.
Errors, such as Jason Woodward kicking a penalty over the dead-ball line at a crucial, and a lack of discipline late in the match cost the visitors a victory that was theirs for the taking.
Zac Guildford and Tyler Bleyendaal put the Crusaders clear inside the opening 13 minutes, as it looked like being a rout for the home side.
However, the Rebels cut down their errors and when captain Scott Higginbotham scored midway through the first half, the visitors started clawing their way back and by half-time had closed the gap to 18-11 - as Tom Taylor and James O'Connor traded penalties in the second quarter.
Taylor and O'Connor again traded penalties early in the second half, before a 12-point blitz in a three-minute spell - through tries by O'Connor and Ged Robinson - saw the visitors grab a 26-21 lead going into the final quarter.
Then Taylor delivered three critical blows with the boot, as he made the Rebels pay for their erroneous ways.
Crusaders captain George Whitelock was disappointed with his side's performance and thankful for Taylor's kicking accuracy.
"We started well, but then we took the foot right off the throat and let the Rebels right back in. Our defence was pretty passive," he said, adding that the message was clear when the Rebels led with 20 minutes remaining.
"We needed to work away and wear them down and we eventually got the penalties."
The Rebels, refreshed from a bye last week, opened with more vigour than the Crusaders as they recovered the kick off and worked their way up to the line.
But it was the Crusaders who scored first when Matt Todd snapped up a turnover ball to ignite a counter-attack from his own line which ended with Zac Guildford scoring in the corner at the other end of the field.
Tyler Bleyendaal added the second try, running straight through the scrambling Rebels' defence from a close-range scrum and Taylor's conversion gave the Crusaders an early 12-0 lead.
That was the end of the Crusaders try-scoring endeavours as the Rebels struck back with a penalty to James O'Connor, who then converted Scott Higginbotham's try at the end of an 80-metre break which started from a line-out steal.
Taylor added two penalties and O'Connor kicked his second for the Crusaders to turn with an 18-11 lead.
After a further exchange of penalties following the second-half restart, the Rebels produced an inspirational three-minute spell, scoring two tries to hit the front.
O'Connor got the first, punishing the Crusaders for falling off two tackles and from the restart the Rebels immediately went back on attack and hooker Ged Robinson scored from a sneaky move at the front of a line-out.
But with Carter coming off the bench along with All Black Wyatt Crockett and Andy Ellis the Crusaders were able to improve their territorial control, allowing Taylor to land the match-winning penalties.
Man of the match: Scott Higginbotham worked hard, as you would expect from a captain, but it was his penalty turnovers at crucial stages that were the most valuable. Scott Fuglistaller provided great support for his captain. James O'Connor showed just how dangerous he can be with ball in hand, but he is so much more than just a running flyhalf and scored a crucial try. Zac Guildford was full of running and Ryan Crotty was the bash-up go to man, Willie Heinz had his moments and George Whitelock did the hard yards when his team needed someone to lead from the front. However, our award goes to Crusaders flank Matt Todd, who was the Crusaders' most productive ball carrier and also did yeoman work at the breakdown.
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Guildford, Bleyendaal
Pens: Taylor 6
For the Melbourne Rebels:
Tries: Higginbotham, O'Connor, Robinson
Pens: O'Connor 3
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (captain), 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Dan Carter, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom English, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 6 Shota Horie, 17 Paul Alo-Emile, 18 Luke Jones, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 Angus Roberts, 22 Lachlan Mitchell.
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)