Defending champions the Chiefs have produced a lionhearted defensive effort to beat the Crusaders 18-10 in a fiercely fought Super Rugby contest in Christchurch.
The injury-hit Chiefs had to survive intense pressure, particularly in the second half, before replacement back James Lowe sealed victory on debut with a long-range intercept try in the 79th minute.
Co-skipper Aaron Cruden’s sideline conversion meant the Crusaders came away from a match in which they had made most of the running with not even a consolation bonus point.
But the win is likely to come at a cost for the Chiefs.
Already with a lengthy casualty list, they lost lock Brodie Retallick and replacement prop Ben Afeaki midway through the second spell after the two All Blacks clashed heads.
They also had former Test fullback Mils Muliaina, on his return from Japan, go off late in the opening half.
The home side dominated territory and had superiority in the set pieces.
But they came up against a resilient defence and also paid dearly for a woeful goalkicking return of just one penalty success from eight attempts.
Five of the misses were by five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal, who was promptly replaced by Tom Taylor at halftime.
Up 8-0 at the break, the Chiefs almost extended their lead early in the second spell through a splendid counter-attack from deep.
But five-eighth Cruden had the ball knocked out of his grasp inches from the line.
Cruden did make it 11-0 minutes later when flanker George Whitelock became the third player in the match, and the second Crusader, to be sin-binned for a breakdown infringement.
It took a piece of individual inspiration from Sam Whitelock to get the Crusaders on the board.
The All Blacks’ lock followed his take in an attacking lineout by barging his way through to score, with Taylor landing the conversion.
Taylor then missed his next two penalty attempts, but put over his third with seven minutes to go to make it a one-point game before Lowe’s late twist.
Earlier, former Crusader Robbie Fruean gave his new side a great start with a blockbusting sideline run.
Fruean, battling back to fitness after having heart surgery for a second time, bumped past three tacklers before touching down.