Tom Taylor's boot proved the decisive difference as the Canterbury Crusaders pulled off a narrow 30-26 victory over the Melbourne Rebels in their Super 15 match Sunday.
The win lifted the seven-time champions to seventh on the table, but it was not a performance they were happy with against a team languishing near the bottom of the championship.
The match marked the return of All Blacks goal-kicking maestro Dan Carter -- who has missed the past four weeks because of paternity leave and a hamstring injury -- but his performance was overshadowed by Taylor's kicking prowess.
The Crusaders inside-centre landed six penalties, three of them into the teeth of a strong wind in the closing quarter of the game after the Rebels had led 26-21.
The Rebels had the satisfaction of outscoring the Crusaders three tries to two, leaving the Crusaders captain George Whitelock disappointed with his side's performance and thankful for Taylor's kicking accuracy.
"We started well but then we took the foot right off the throat and let the Rebels right back in. Our defence was pretty passive," he said, adding that the message was clear when the Rebels led with 20 minutes remaining.
"We needed to work away and wear them down and we eventually got the penalties."
The Rebels, refreshed from a bye last week, opened with more vigour than the Crusaders as they recovered the kick off and worked their way up to the line.
But it was the Crusaders who scored first when Matt Todd snapped up a turnover ball to ignite a counter-attack from his own line which ended with Zac Guildford scoring in the corner at the other end of the field.
Tyler Bleyendaal added the second try, running straight through the scrambling Rebels' defence from a close-range scrum and Taylor's conversion gave the Crusaders an early 12-0 lead.
That was the end of the Crusaders try-scoring endeavours as the Rebels struck back with a penalty to James O'Connor who then converted Scott Higgenbotham's try at the end of an 80-metre break which started from a lineout steal.
Taylor added two penalties and O'Connor kicked his second for the Crusaders to turn with an 18-11 lead.
After a further exchange of penalties following the restart, the Rebels produced an inspirational five-minute spell, scoring two tries to hit the front.
O'Connor got the first, punishing the Crusaders for falling off two tackles and from the restart the Rebels immediately went back on attack and hooker Ged Robinson scored from a lineout.
But with Carter coming off the bench along with All Blacks Wyatt Crockett and Andy Ellis the Crusaders were able to improve their territorial control, allowing Taylor to land the match-winning penalties.