One week after securing the Super Rugby Aotearoa title the Crusaders escaped with a fortuitous victory from their first match against Australian opposition this year.
The Brumbies, beaten Super Rugby AU finalists, brought a much-needed genuine contest to the opening round of transtasman encounters after the Highlanders and Hurricanes banked comfortable victories on Friday night.
In a dramatic finish the Brumbies scored two late tries, the second to No 8 Rob Valetini which gave rookie Wallabies playmaker Noah Lolesio the chance to tie the game with the final play. However, the 21-year-old marginally pulled the kick from near the left-hand touchline, allowing the Crusaders to prevail.
It's the second heartbreak in as many weeks for the Brumbies after the Reds scored four-and-a-half minutes into added time in Brisbane last week to snatch the Australian Super Rugby title.
On the basis of this performance, which came without influential Wallabies halfback Nic White, the Brumbies will seriously test New Zealand opposition in the coming weeks. They face the Chiefs in Hamilton and Blues in Auckland in the next two weeks.
Trailing 19-7 after a scrappy first half, the Brumbies drew within two points of the champion Crusaders midway through the second spell.
To that point, the Brumbies challenged the Crusaders at the set piece, particularly the lineout. Defensively the Brumbies also forced the Crusaders into uncharacteristic errors, evoking regular frustration from the coaching box. The visitors' desperation on defence was epitomised by replacement Luke Reimer's try-saving tackle on Ethan Blackadder that pushed his feet into touch in the corner.
Discipline was another ongoing issue, with the Crusaders conceding 16 penalties to the Brumbies' 11.
While the Crusaders scored five-tries-to-four their attack lacked penetration from the midfield where they were often guilty of drifting across field. It was a disjointed performance at times that lacked rhythm – perhaps symptomatic of a hangover from claiming the New Zealand title last week.
As has become customary under Scott Robertson, the Crusaders initially pulled clear when the pressure came on. A bloodied Cullen Grace, in his best match of the season which featured two breakdown turnovers, scored his first try for the Crusaders to push the locals out to a 31-17 lead with 11 minutes to play.
The Brumbies never stopped coming, though. Tom Banks claimed a superb try, skinning Braydon Ennor on the outside after a slick set-piece move.
Crusaders halfback Ereatara Enari was yellow carded for repeat team infringing with 90 seconds remaining, and with a one-man advantage Valetini crashed over in the corner.
Lolesio couldn't add the extras, allowing the Crusaders to take four points.
The first half was a largely forgettable affair blighted by 13 scrums, the vast majority of which involved painstaking resets.
Blackadder continued his relentlessly fearless approach on defence and he opened the scoring after a pass from Mitchell Dunshea that looked decidedly forward, but the Brumbies were ultimately punished for several poor clearance kicks that failed to find touch.
In easily the standout moment of the first half, Richie Mo'unga produced a sublime piece of individual brilliance to dummy and pop off his right foot in one movement to beat two defenders and sprint to the line.
Brumbies prop Scott Sio kept the visitors in the hunt by powering his way over after a series of Crusaders infringements, only for David Havili to nab an intercept try and push the Crusaders clear.
Despite the defeat, after two blowout wins for the New Zealand teams to open the transtasman competition, the Brumbies at least put a stake in the ground for their Australian counterparts.
Crusaders 31 (Ethan Blackadder, Richie Mo'unga, David Havili, Brendon O'Connor, Cullen Grace tries; Mo'unga 3 cons)
Brumbies 29 (Scott Sio, Irae Simone, Tom Banks, Rob Valetini tries; Noah Lolesio 3 cons, pen)