Crusaders hold off Highlanders fightback to pick up tense victory in Super Rugby Aotearoa
In a match played in a typically boisterous atmosphere, as is customary for South Island derbies, the Crusaders began in dominant fashion, racing out to a 14-0 lead inside the opening 20 minutes through tries from Codie Taylor and Bryn Hall.
Ill-discipline from the Crusaders and clinical attacking by the Highlanders closed the gap by half-time, though, as Shannon Frizell and Connor Garden-Bachop crashed over to make it 14-10 at the break.
A Mitch Hunt penalty early in the second half made it a one-point game, while the Highlanders’ bench applied pressure on the reigning champions, with Folau Fakatava, Josh Ioane and Liam Squire leading the charge from the reserves.
However, a Sevu Reece try extended the Crusaders’ lead, and a disallowed try to Sio Tomkinson due to a controversial knock on decision called against Fakatava dampened the hosts’ spirits.
The result was the out of reach in the final 10 minutes when replacement hooker Brodie McAlister burrowed over from a rolling maul to ensure the Crusaders began their title defence in the best way possible.
However, discipline issues, which led to two yellow cards, will be a key focal point for Scott Robertson’s men leading into next week’s clash with the Hurricanes.
Nevertheless, the performances from the likes of Taylor and Reece were sensational, with the pair setting the standard for their peers as they eye a fifth straight Super Rugby title.
As for the Highlanders, their inability to capitalise on their overwhelming territory – just over 71 percent of the match was played inside the Crusaders’ half – needs to be addressed before next week’s match against the Chiefs in Hamilton.
An a positive note, Garden-Bachop had a Super Rugby debut to remember, while fellow wing Jona Nareki was equally as impressive with ball in hand.
Highlanders 13 (Tries to Shannon Frizell and Connor Garden-Bachop; penalty to Mitch Hunt)
Crusaders 26 (Tries to Codie Taylor, Bryn Hall, Sevu Reece and Brodie McAlister; 3 conversions to Richie Mo’unga; yellow cards to Ethan Blackadder and Scott Barrett)
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