The Lions scored their only try four minutes before half-time to claim a 13-10 lead at the break, but struggled to get out of their territory in the second half as the Crusaders’ forwards took control, using tight play and direct running.
The New Zealanders regained the lead four minutes after the break as wing Sean Maitland gleefully ran on to a lovely grubber from fullback Israel Dagg, after the Lions had suffered a costly turnover in their own 22.
Centre Tom Taylor, who played at flyhalf for much of the second half as Dan Carter was substituted after an hour upon his return from groin surgery, kicked the conversion to make the score 17-13.
Taylor then failed with a 51-metre penalty attempt, but succeeded with penalties in the 48th and 63rd minutes to complete the scoring.
“We were really disappointed with our start, we were really inaccurate. But we played with better intent in the second half after sitting back in the first half. We had good field position and we wanted to be a lot more direct and go through the middle,” Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder told a news conference after the game.
“But we absolutely let a bonus point slip because we were really inaccurate, which is frustrating.”
The Lions dominated the first half as they kept possession for long periods. But it proved a false dawn for the SuperRugby strugglers as they battled to penetrate the tight Crusaders’ defence.
There were promising breaks by the home side, but captain and flank Josh Strauss passed straight to opposition centre Taylor with the tryline in sight, and lock Franco van der Merwe was held up over the line by scrumhalf Andy Ellis.
Ruck infringements accounted for the first points of the match for both sides as Lions flyhalf Butch James (19th) and Taylor (21st) kicked penalties.
Taylor’s first kick at goal came after wing Zac Guildford had opened up the Lions defence with a mazy run and the 23-year-old All Black also scored the opening try 10 minutes later when he raced on to Carter’s slick pop-pass on the inside after centre Robbie Fruean had crashed the ball over the advantage line.
Prop Pat Cilliers scored the Lions’ only try as he burst off the back of a ruck.
“The moments after half-time were the turning point. We just didn’t control possession and we weren’t accurate enough. It’s very obvious our lineout’s not working as we’d like and it’s unacceptable,” Lions coach John Mitchell said.
The Lions have now won just one of their five SuperRugby matches this season, while the Crusaders complete their two-match South African tour by playing the Bulls in Pretoria next Saturday.
Lions – Try: Pat Cilliers. Conversion: Butch James. Penalties: James (2).
Crusaders – Tries: Zac Guildford, Sean Maitland. Conversions: Tom Taylor (2). Penalties: Taylor (3).