The Canterbury Crusaders returned to winning form and left the Otago Highlanders' season in tatters Saturday as they triumphed 24-8 in a scrappy New Zealand southern derby.
It was a much-needed but far from convincing win for the seven-time champions after their upset loss to the Western Force last week, the second consecutive defeat of their overseas tour.
They led 16-0 at half-time and scored two tries to one to further deflate the Highlanders who have now lost all eight games this year and gone 11 games since they last tasted victory last year.
In the battle of the two sides predicted at the start of the season to be heading the New Zealand conference -- but who are instead lagging at the bottom -- the Crusaders enjoyed overwhelming control.
But the up-and-down form that has plagued them throughout the year continued as they lacked the composure to make the most of their opportunities.
Playing with the strong breeze behind them in the first half, and with the dominant forward pack controlling scrums and lineouts, the Crusaders held 63 percent of possession and 86 percent of territory.
But they were unable to find the tryline until Robbie Fruean scored on the stroke of half-time.
Until then they had lived off three penalties by Tyler Bleyendaal while Zac Guildford came up short in one lunge for the line and dropped a rough pass to squander a second opportunity.
The Highlanders struck first after the break when a long cut-out pass from Aaron Smith put Jason Emery over in the corner, but any thoughts of a reversal of fortunes were soon erased.
Bleyendaal landed a fourth penalty and Colin Slade replied for the Highlanders before replacement centre Tom Taylor scored the Crusaders second try from an overlap with four minutes remaining.
Over the final 20 minutes the Crusaders repeatedly pressured the Highlanders line, turning down kickable penalty opportunities to take scrums or lineouts in an effort to raise their try tally.
But they were kept out by an heroic Highlanders defensive effort until Taylor, who has spent much of the year sidelined with a knee injury, came on as a late replacement