It was no surprise the Crusaders beat the Western Force at nib Stadium but it took the Super Rugby powerhouses until the 78th minute to find the match-winning try.
The Crusaders threatened to blow Friday’s game open in the first half with the only two tries and it could have been more had it not been for uncharacteristic ball-handling errors.
That continued all night with the Force’s pressure outstanding. The home team opened a 19-13 lead with some good kicking from Peter Grant and a 61st-minute try to Ryan Louwrens.
But the Crusaders dominated possession, territory and the set-pieces, leading to a 78th-minute converted try to Jordan Taufua that secured their fifth straight win.
It was a heartbreaking fifth successive loss for the Force ahead of a bye.
Only the poor handling by the visitors stopped the Crusaders’ lead from being greater than 13-6 at the halftime break following tries to Johnny McNicholl and Mitchell Drummond.
The Force stayed somewhat in touch with two penalties to Peter Grant and then built some momentum to start the second half.
Two penalties to Grant and a stunning try to Louwrens after a critical steal and big run from Junior Rasolea gave the home team their surprise 19-13 lead in the 61st minute.
The Crusaders dominated the last 20 minutes but continued to make uncharacteristic handling errors, most notably a fumble to McNicholl that cost him what would have been a clear try.
But eventually, the Crusaders found a way through the Force’s defence having dominated the set-pieces all night.
Taufua crossed with two minutes remaining, Richie Mo’unga converted and that was the game.