CRUSADERS 3 BRITISH & IRISH LIONS 12
The tour is back on track for the British and Irish Lions, who showed in this victory over the Crusaders that they might have a bit about them after all.
On a very cold night in Christchurch they matched the Crusaders punch for punch and emerged deserved victors. It wasn't pretty, but it was mighty effective; their defensive wall in particular offered Scott Robertson's men very little in the way of opportunities and the constant high kicks, while a boring tactic for many in the south, was pragmatic and right for the conditions.
The win by Warren Gatland's men allowed them to avoid becoming the first Lions side since 1908 to lose the first two of their three matches and they will depart for Dunedin and their match against the Highlanders on Tuesday with a vastly improved self belief.
The Crusaders will be disappointed with their performance in their first loss of the season, and probably with French referee Mathieu Raynal, who was very harsh on the home scrum and the red and blacks in general.
The Lions, though, will have a few gripes themselves. Owen Farrell believed his kick from in front five minutes after halftime was good, but it was waved away by the touch judges and would have been a bone of contention had the Crusaders sneaked a close win.
Roberton's men just could not find their rhythm, though. That defensive pressure from Gatland's men created errors but they made many uncharacteristic unforced mistakes, and Farrell's fourth penalty with time ticking away killed them off for good.
Credit to the Lions, though, they looked up for it; at last. There was niggle - mostly push and shove - but it showed their intent, and they were certainly dominant in the lineout, an area of strength usually for the Crusaders but not this time.
Fullback Stuart Hogg was a victim of friendly fire when he ran into one of Conor Murray's elbows, the crowd chanting "off, off" to the Irish No9 when Hogg was forced to leave the field with blood streaming from his face.
But the Crusaders were victim too to the sustained excellence of openside flanker Sean O'Brien and No8 Toby Faletau. Midfielder Ben Te'o ran straight, and, significantly for the visitors who have looked bereft of attacking ideas to this point, they looked prepared to try things.
Radio Sport highlights: Lions v Crusaders
Much of that was down to halfback Murray, a player who can hold claim to being one of the best in his position in the world.
The Crusaders have been successful this season because of their superior skill level and fitness, but they couldn't play the high-tempo game they prefer due in part to their handling errors, and the Lions' defence.
Luke Romano spilled two kick-offs and Richie Mo'unga a kick and a pass. They all combined to stop the continuity they like to play with and it meant the Lions weren't as stretched as they could have been.
But while they lost, the Crusaders should feel proud at keeping a close to test-strength Lions try-less while getting extremely close themselves.
After a very wobbly start, Gatland's campaign is back on track and perhaps all rugby supporters should be thankful for that.