The Wellington Hurricanes snatched a thrilling one-point win over the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch Saturday to keep their Super 15 play-off hopes alive.
Inspired by two tries from skipper Conrad Smith, the Hurricanes upset the seven-time champions Crusaders 23-22 in a gripping game in which the lead changed five times.
The Crusaders, who scored one try through Zac Guildford, had two chances to overcome their New Zealand rivals with penalties in the dying minutes, but with star pivot Dan Carter out injured, their goal kicking let them down.
The win lifts the Hurricanes to fifth in the overall Super 15 standings on 49 points, three points behind the Crusaders with two rounds to go in the race for a spot in the top six.
Smith said the Wellington team probably entered the match fresher than an All Blacks-studded Crusaders' line-up drained from a three-Test series win over Ireland.
"This team keeps going from strength to strength and it's great stuff," he said.
"I always knew it was going to be tough for their guys coming back and I think that's where we had a slight edge, we knew we'd be a little bit fresher and that counts for something."
Crusaders captain Richie McCaw said his team failed to execute the basics.
"We did some good things and we also did some dumb things," he said.
"Momentum slipped a wee bit and we were forced to play down in our own half. It's hard to put my finger on it, they came at us with some intensity and they came away with the win."
Tom Taylor almost made it a dream start for the Crusaders, bursting through the Hurricanes defensive line in the opening minutes only for the move to break down after a forward pass from Corey Flynn just short of the tryline.
Taylor, standing for the injured Carter, still had the Crusaders up 6-0 after 10 minutes with two penalty goals.
Hurricanes skipper Conrad Smith scored the first try of the match mid-way through the first half after fullback Andre Taylor set up the five pointer with a scintillating line break.
Another Crusaders penalty narrowed the gap to 10-9 before Guildford scored the hosts only try of the match, leaving Beauden Barrett clutching for air as he raced 70 metres to the line.
Smith immediately replied with his second, wrong-footing the Crusaders defence with a dummy pass then barging over the tryline, with Barrett converting to give the Hurricanes a 17-16 advantage at half time.
Taylor put the hosts ahead 22-17 with two quick penalties after the restart and the scores remained unchanged for 20 minutes until Barrett hit back with two of his own, making it 23-22 with six minutes to play.
A scrum infringement from the Hurricanes gave Taylor the chance to pot his sixth penalty goal but his kick from the half way line drifted wide.
The Crusaders then handed kicking duties to Tyler Bleyendaal for their final chance, a penalty after the siren, but his effort from out wide lacked power and fell short, into the arms of a relieved Smith.