The Crusaders were awarded two late penalty tries as they sealed a 30-7 win over the Western Force in Super Rugby to give further strength to their claim to a playoffs place.

The Crusaders were wholly dominant through most of the first half but, though they had ball in hand for much of the spell, were restrained by the Force's outstanding scramble defence.

Referee Mike Fraser awarded the first penalty try in the 72nd minute when he ruled the Force had deliberately collapsed the defence driving maul and the second at a screwed scrum in the third minute of injury time.

Fraser also sent Force lock Sam Wykes to the sin bin for a professional foul in the 71st minute and gave the Crusaders an overwhelming advantage in the penalty count.

Winger Johnny McNicholl scored one try and had another disallowed as the Crusaders took a 16-0 lead to halftime.

Force improve defence

But they were held scoreless in the second half until the first of their penalty tries.

The Force competed more strongly for possession, held the ball for longer periods and pressed the Crusaders into more regular and desperate defence.

The Australian side have allowed more line breaks than any other team in the tournament but their desperation in defence has given them the competition's third-best defensive record.

The win lifted the Crusaders to second on the championships ladder, a point behind South Africa's Sharks, at the start of the tournament's 16th round - the last before a four-week break for June test matches.

They also remain on top of the New Zealand conference.

Source: AP