Crusaders hold on for tight South Island derby win over Highlanders
The winless Highlanders spent much of the second half and almost all of the final quarter on attack.
But they were unable to break down the resolute Crusaders’ defence which refused to yield even when replacement hooker Shilo Klein was shown a red card in 77th minute for a shoulder charge which struck the head of Highlanders prop Ethan de Groot.
The Crusaders showed a remarkable ability to hold out under concerted pressure and to win crucial turnovers at the tackled ball through players such as flanker Ethan Blackadder and winger Sevu Reece.
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“It was a heck of a battle,” Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said. “The conditions forced both teams into playing that pressure game and it was a real see-saw right to the final whistle.”
The first half had all the action the second half lacked. The Highlanders twice were in front and on both occasions the Crusaders were able to reply.
Highlanders hooker Andrew Makalio scored the first converted try of the match in the seventh minute from a clever lineout move worked with backrower Shannon Frizell.
The Crusaders replied in the 13th with a try to prop Fletcher Newell, created by centre David Havili who recovered his own kick on attack and quickly moved the ball to Mitchell Drummond, who fed Newell at pace.
The Highlanders again went ahead in the 19th minute with a try to centre Scott Gregory, also converted by Ben Hunt.
Again the Crusaders responded, this time through a powerful run by centre Leicester Fainga’anuku.
In the meantime Mo’unga kicked the penalty that proved the difference between the teams.
“I was really proud of our effort,” Highlander s captain Aaron Smith said. “We were able to stay in the game for 80 minutes and put the best team in the competition under a lot of pressure.”
The Highlanders remain without a win after six matches while the Crusaders have five wins from six games.
Crusaders 17 (Tries to Fletcher Newell and Leicester Fainga’anuku; 2 conversions and penalty to Richie Mo’unga)
Highlanders 14 (Tries to Andrew Makalio and Scott Gregory; 2 conversions to Mitch Hunt)
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