Crusaders too strong for Force
Kieran Read got through the full 80 minutes as the Crusaders ground out a 30-7 Super Rugby win against the Western Force.
Read had been out for six weeks but showed no lingering effects of his lengthy lay-off for concussion as he made some big tackles, carried strongly, claimed an intercept and offloaded well to signal his return ahead of New Zealand's three-Test series against England.
But All Blacks coach Steve Hansen could have concerns over Israel Dagg, who left the field in the 67th minute after being hit in a late tackle and was icing his right shoulder on the sideline.
Up to that point Dagg had again been influential, having a hand in Johnny McNicholl's try and then putting his body on the line for the second week in a row to deny Force winger Nick Cummins a try early in the second half.
The visitors did get across the whitewash through Dane Haylett-Petty shortly afterwards but any hopes of claiming a first win in Christchurch were dashed when Sam Wykes was sent to the sinbin and referee Mike Fraser awarded two penalty tries in the final eight minutes.
The Force also saw loose forward Angus Cottrell taken off on a stretcher late in the match with what looked like a nasty ankle injury.
The Force spent most of the first half on defence but scrambled hard to ensure they kept the Crusaders to just a single converted try and three Colin Slade penalties.
Despite spending a mammoth 10 minutes in the Force 22 in the opening 40 minutes the Crusaders' only five-pointer went to McNicholl in the 26th minute.
A well-executed cross-field kick from Andy Ellis to his winger got the Crusaders on the front foot initially. But the Force scrambled well and it wasn't until some smart footwork from Dagg got him behind the visitors' defence and free to offload to McNicholl could the winger finish off the move he started.
It gave the Crusaders a 16-0 half-time lead. The red and blacks have been a strong second-half side this year but they were pushed all the way by the determined Force until the final 10 minutes.
For the second week in a row Dagg put in a try-saving tackle, this time to hold Cummins up over the line in the 47th minute.
But the Force weren't to be denied again and Haylett-Petty spun in the tackle of Ben Funnell to dot down under the posts. Sias Ebersohn added the conversion and it turned out to be the last points for the Force.
Wykes was yellow carded in the 70th minute for cynical play in pulling down a driving maul. When the visitors did the same thing two minutes later Fraser signalled a penalty try.
Cummins then pulled off a superb tackle to deny McNicholl a second try. But on the stroke of full-time Fraser awarded another penalty try to the home side.