Fit-again All Blacks flyhalf Daniel Carter set up both of his team’s tries in his first start this year as the Canterbury Crusaders beat the Lions 23-13 in the Super 15 on Saturday.
Carter’s inside pass put winger Zac Guildford clear in the 31st minute and he sent a perfectly weighted kick behind the defense early in the second half for Canterbury’s other winger, Sean Maitland, to score in the corner.
Tom Taylor kicked 13 points as a clinical Canterbury bounced back from 13-10 down at halftime to extend their winning run over the Johannesburg team to four games since 2008.
Prop Patric Cilliers scored the Lions’ only try three minutes before halftime at Ellis Park, but the seven-time champion Crusaders were supremely efficient in attack and defense to improve their record to 3-2, and move into the top six and the playoff places in the overall standings.
Butch James pulled an 83rd-minute penalty wide in the last act of the game to deny the slumping Lions a losing bonus point. The injury-hit Lions have lost four straight after opening with a victory over the Cheetahs.
Carter played just over an hour before he was replaced by Ryan Crotty and although generally subdued in his first run-on appearance since a groin injury wrecked his World Cup last year, the New Zealand No. 10 showed two classy touches to give the Crusaders the edge.
The Lions’ wretched run with injuries continued when New Zealand-born fullback James Kamana was concussed flying into Maitland’s knee in a tackle in the second minute. John Mitchell’s depleted Lions already had 15 squad members out injured before the game and Kamana’s early exit on a stretcher.
Crusaders center Robbie Fruean’s try in the left corner in the same move was called back for a forward pass and the Lions seized on some early possession at the other end to go 6-3 up through two James penalties.
The Crusaders capitalized on a rare first-half foray into Lions territory just after the half hour as Carter dummied outside and slipped an inside ball to Guildford for the opening try and the All Blacks winger’s first of the season. Taylor’s conversion went in off the post for 10-6 to the Crusaders.
Lions lock Franco van der Merwe was held up over the tryline in the 36th after a string of offloads out of tackles by his packmates.
However, frontrower Cilliers battered his way over a minute later following the scrum to push the Lions back in front. Television official Shaun Veldsman this time ruled in favor of the home team, who led by three at the half.
The Crusaders scored through their first attack of the second half, when Maitland ran onto Carter’s pinpoint-stabbed kick in the right corner. Taylor, who continued his goalkicking duties despite Carter’s return, swung in the conversion from way out wide and added a 49th-minute penalty as the touring team took control at 20-13.
The Lions were again held up over the whitewash in the 55th, when replacement hooker Martin Bezuidenhout could not ground the ball from a lineout drive.
The Crusaders’ defense held under pressure from a series of attacks and the visitors continued to make their possessions count. Taylor landed his third penalty in the 64th and the Crusaders were dominant in the final stages, before James wasted his late chance to take something from the game for the Lions.