The Crusaders marked Wyatt Crockett’s 200th Super Rugby game with a 45-22 triumph over rivals the Highlanders.
The former New Zealand prop became the first player to reach a double-century of Super Rugby appearances in an ultimately comfortable win at Wyatt Crockett Stadium – renamed for one match in honour of his achievement – as he attempts to inspire the defending champions to another title in his final season.
George Bridge crossed twice, while Richie Mo’unga contributed one try, four conversions and four penalties, as the Crusaders pulled further clear at the league’s summit.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read played for the Crusaders for the first time this year, while the Highlanders’ Liam Squire passed a fitness test to start.
The Crusaders started brightly and had a pair of early tries through Bridge and David Kaetau Havili.
Tyrel Lomax soon responded, however, and Lima Sopoaga and Ben Smith then led a brilliant breakaway for the latter to cross and narrow the deficit to a single point.
Scott Barrett charged through before the break to restore a healthy Crusaders lead, and the tries kept coming following the restart, as Mo’unga and Waisake Naholo traded scores.
It was Bridge who then completed the scoring, the full-time whistle blowing after Crockett turned down the opportunity to attempt a late penalty kick, to the disappointment of the home crowd.
Elsewhere, the Rebels’ post-season hopes were hit by their failure to take top spot in the Australian Conference in a 37-23 defeat at the Reds.
The Melbourne side were in front through tries from Angus Cottrell and Jack Maddocks, following a Reds penalty try, but the visitors fell apart on the stroke of half-time.
Maddocks’ kick was charged down by Izack Rodda, who crossed unchallenged, before Filipo Daugunu added another after the siren.
Jono Lance capped a fine night with his boot by getting a try late on, ending with 20 points in a superb individual display.
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