The Crusaders finally made their dominance count as they ground out a 14-8 win over the Lions in a repeat of last year's Super Rugby final.

Trailing 5-0 at halftime in Johannesburg, converted tries to lock Sam Whitelock and centre Jack Goodhue in the space of three minutes midway through the second spell proved decisive.

Elton Jantjes landed a penalty for the fast-finishing hosts but it wasn't enough to prevent them sinking to a third loss from their last four games.

The defending champion Crusaders' fourth win from six lifts them level at the top of the New Zealand conference although they've played one more game than the Hurricanes.

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The Lions (4-3) sit atop the overall standings, one point ahead of the leading Kiwis and alongside the Melbourne Rebels (4-2).

It was a clinical first-half performance which carried the Crusaders to their 25-17 win in the competitions decider at Ellis Park eight months ago.

Yet it was their finishing that let them down in the opening stanza on Monday morning (NZT), botching a handful of try-scoring chances.

Instead, Lions winger Madosh Tambwe bagged the only early points through a well- worked try.

It clicked after the break for the visitors, with All Blacks lock Whitelock powering over from close range before Goodhue benefited from a Manasa Mataele half-break and offload.

Rising centre Goodhue, who also scored in last years final, strained a hamstring as he powered across and was replaced. He is in doubt for the Crusaders' next game against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

The win was the fourth in succession on South African soil for the Crusaders, something the eight-time champions have never previously achieved. They have won nine of their last 10 matches against the Lions.

A Lions team featuring eight changes continue to play without the confidence that has taken them to the last two finals.

They remain top of the South African conference but look fragile, having conceded a competition-high 35 tries.

- AAP