Update: 6:42PM ALL Blacks captain Richie McCaw's first game in two months ended on a winning note, as the Crusaders dominated the Brumbies 40-20 in their Super Rugby clash in Christchurch on Saturday.
Returning after a two-month break with a fractured thumb, McCaw managed a full 80 minutes as the Crusaders racked up their sixth win from nine starts to leapfrog from bottom to top of the congested New Zealand conference.
McCaw started at blindside flanker, but was back on the openside barely two minutes after kickoff when Matt Todd was sidelined early with a calf injury.
The Crusaders lost two more players to injury inside the first 20 minutes, centre Kieron Fonotia pulling up lame after six minutes and his replacement Tom Taylor benched with a head knock 10 minutes later.
The only try of a penalty-littered first half came right on 40 minutes, with wing Johnny McNicholl diving over out wide to finish a good team try as the hooter sounded to give his team a 22-6 lead at the break.
The Brumbies, who sit top of the Australian conference and second overall, hit back early in the second spell as they finally attacked the breakdown with aggression and broke through some fractured Crusaders defence.
Prop Stephen Moore crashed over between the posts, and the conversion narrowed the Crusaders' lead to nine.
But the Brumbies continued to concede penalties, and Crusaders' pivot Colin Slade was in deadly accurate form, accumulating seven penalties as he racked up a game-high 23 points.
Fijian wing Nemani Naidolo extended the home team's lead on 52 minutes. Sam Whitelock charged down Matt Toomua's clearing kick from an attacking Crusaders scrum, and the ball fell kindly for Naidolo to race away for his fourth try of the Super Rugby season.
The Brumbies couldn't capitalise on the sinbinning of Crusaders replacement lock Luke Romano at 67 minutes, conceding another try as Luke Whitelock chased down a kick ahead to score and extend the lead to 40-13.
Pat McCabe picked up a late consolation for the Brumbies, breaking through with just two minutes remaining.