Crusaders 22 Hurricanes 23
In safe hands ... Conrad Smith is all smiles after his inspired performance helped topple the Crusaders. Photo: Getty Images
Some Conrad Smith magic and Beauden Barrett's icy disposition have ensured the Hurricanes' Super Rugby play-off hopes have a heartbeat.
Last night the Hurricanes calmly held on to stun the Crusaders 23-22 at AMI Stadium despite their scrum being embarrassed and being unable to add to Smith's two first-half tries.
Runaway try ... Zac Guildford scoots between the Hurricanes defence to score for the Crusaders. Photo: Getty Images
The Crusaders had a late chance to win the match when replacement back Tyler Bleyendaal attempted an angled penalty from 50m but it fell short and the Hurricanes celebrated wildly in the realisation they still have a chance to win their first title.
A loss would have been devastating to their chances. Now they will enter next week's bye to prepare to face the Chiefs in the final round.
The Crusaders, who will rue the not kicking more intelligently for field position in the first half, are unlikely to top the New Zealand conference; with two rounds remaining the Chiefs look set to secure that precious space.
The seven-time champions Crusaders are no certainty to qualify as they prepare for their final games against the Chiefs and the Force.
The Hurricanes had done their homework at the breakdown and they were remorseless in this facet, especially in the first half. With the Crusaders forwards lax around the ruck the visitors ensured the pill was often scrappy for Andy Ellis and were also helped by the hosts making a clutch of uncharacteristic handling errors.
It was bitterly cold, too, and it seemed referee Bryce Lawrence was concerned about his the pea in his whistle freezing as he hammered both sides with penalties. Within 15 minutes he had dished out six. But Hurricanes' rake Dane Coles couldn't blame Lawrence for his three consecutive lineout throws in the first spell and as the crowd revelled in his misfortune he had to have been tempted to reverse his throws into selected targets in the stand.
The Crusaders, who had loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett, 29, celebrating his 100th Super outing, repeatedly destroyed the 'Canes set-piece with their props on both side of the scrum pinged for dragging it to the ground. Turning around a point down the Crusaders had coach Todd Blackadder's instructions to temper their ball-carrying exuberance and kick more intelligently.
Neither side was able to score a try in the second half as the match reverted to a grind that was often interrupted by Lawrence's adjudications. First blood was drawn by 'Canes skipper Smith and it came with a dollop of controversy as Crusaders' playmaker Tom Taylor protested Julian Savea had run interference as the midfielder dotted down.
There were no histrionics following Smith's second effort late in the first half, though. The classy All Blacks centre executed a crisp dummy down the short side and shot through Sean Maitland's tackle to ensure Barrett's conversion gave his lot a 17-16 halftime lead.
The best try of the evening was scored by Crusaders wing Zac Guildford minutes earlier when he emphasised just how cruel he can be when his confidence is high and charitable defences inexplicably offer him space.
A quick pass by Ryan Crotty allowed Guildford enough time to gas between Barrett and Faifili Levave 65m out, and as he angled towards the line he beat Andre Taylor with ease before a swan dive that looked more dangerous to his own health than spectacular.
The Crusaders will rue the absence of injured All Blacks Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Israel Dagg but it was their inability to abstain from conceding penalties and to maintain momentum that proved so costly.
HURRICANES 23 (Conrad Smith 2 tries Beauden Barrett 2 cons 3 pens) bt CRUSADERS 22 (Zac Guildford try Tom Taylor con 5 pens) at Christchurch Stadium. Referee: Bryce Lawrence.