Late burst keeps Crusaders unbeaten in New Zealand
Two tries in the closing four minutes saw the Crusaders survive a first-half setback to beat the Highlanders 40-20 and remain unbeaten in New Zealand’s Super Rugby championship on Saturday.
The Highlanders, playing before their home crowd, twice held the lead in the southern derby and turned 17-14 ahead.
But the Crusaders upped the tempo in the second half with four tries, two to flanker Tom Christie, as they asserted their dominance.
Captain Codie Taylor said coach Scott Robertson’s halftime analysis made the difference.
“The messages at halftime were really crucial for us to change the game in the second half,” he said.
“We knew that if we were a bit more direct and earned the right to go through them and then played wide that opportunities would come.”
Highlanders captain Aaron Smith said the Crusaders became too clinical as the game wore on.
“Their ability to hold the ball, build pressure and score points got us in the end,” he said.
The Highlanders were struggling near the bottom of the southern hemisphere championship when the coronavirus pandemic brought the season to a sudden halt in March.
But since New Zealand launched their own competition last month, they have been a vastly improved side and in the high-octane clash with their South Island neighbours they were in the hunt for 70 minutes.
Their forward pack was monstered at the start and they were further hampered after 15 minutes when their line-out general Josh Dickson was stretchered off in the lead-up to the Crusaders first try by Will Jordan.
It was an injury that spurred the Highlanders into life. They immediately forced their way up to the Crusaders line for Shannon Frizell, who handled three times in the move, to score a much needed try.
The Highlanders scored again when Smith snapped up the ball from a faulty line-out throw and ignited a 35-metre move that ended with a try to right-wing Ngatungane Punivai.
With Mitchell Hunt on target with the conversions the Highlanders jumped from 8-0 down to a 14-8 lead in the space of five minutes. Two Richie Mo’unga penalties and one by Hunt put the Highlanders up 17-14 at the turn.
But the Crusaders upped the pace after the resumption and a relentless wave of attacks resulted in Christie’s first try to regain the lead.
The Highlanders had a chance to hit the front again but Jona Nareki was brought down with two unmarked players outside him.
The reprieve saw the Crusaders finish off with tries to Sevu Reece, Christie’s second and a spectacular chip-and-recover effort by Jordan.
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