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Crusaders out for revenge after last year's shock loss to Highlanders

By Alex McLeod
Photo: John Davidson / www.photosport.nz

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As the Crusaders prepare for this weekend’s Super Rugby Pacific clash against the Highlanders, memories of last year’s shock loss to their South Island rivals will be at the forefront of their minds.

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Last April, at the end of a tumultuous week for the Highlanders following a partying controversy that involved six of their players, the Dunedin-based outfit shocked Super Rugby Aotearoa by stunning the reigning champions in their own backyard.

The 33-12 defeat at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch was just the second time the Crusaders had lost a Super Rugby match on their home soil since Scott Robertson took over as head coach in 2017.

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It was a result that was made all the more unexpected by the Highlanders’ inconsistent form that plagued them leading into that fixture, as well as the unbeaten start to the season the Crusaders had enjoyed up until that point.

The context isn’t too dissimilar ahead of the rescheduled clash between the two sides at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday following Super Rugby Pacific’s opening round results last weekend.

The Highlanders head into this week’s southern derby on the back of a first-up 26-16 loss to the Chiefs in Queenstown, which was followed by an expected 42-32 victory over the Hurricanes by the Crusaders in Dunedin.

As such, the Highlanders will enter their round two match against their local rivals as underdogs once again, but the Crusaders aren’t likely to be complacent after last year’s showing.

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Crusaders assistant coach Andrew Goodman revealed earlier this week that his side had looked back on their most recent meeting with the Highlanders in preparation for this week’s match in the hope of identifying their shortcomings from last year.

“Most of Sunday, yesterday, was on the computer looking at the Highlanders,” Goodman told media on Monday.

“We know Crusaders-Highlanders games are always pretty dogged affairs and it’ll be a tight contest, physical. They’ll throw some surprises at us. We’ve got to expect the unexpected with them.

“They’ll be back under the roof at home so it’s going to be one of those ones where we’re just going to have to stay on, again look to start really well, but continue that on right through the game this week.

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“There might have been a couple of clips we looked at from that games last year just around a bit of their DNA and where they are successful, what they do really well.

“We’ve covered off a little bit of that this morning and we had a good training this afternoon and looking forward to another good day off tomorrow to enjoy Queenstown and we’ll rip back into it on Wednesday.”

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Arguably the main man tasked with ensuring that the Crusaders avoid another shock defeat to the Highlanders is young playmaker Fergus Burke, who starred for his side against the Hurricanes last weekend.

The 22-year-old first-five has been entrusted with the No 10 jersey in the absence of All Blacks star Richie Mo’unga, who has a clause in his contract that enables him to sit out the opening three weeks of the competition.

In Burke, the Crusaders have found an adequate replacement, and Goodman expects another impressive display from the youngster on Friday.

“Yeah, I thought the did a great job, did all his core roles, kicked his goals, kicked well out of the hand, directed the boys really well,” Goodman said.

“Again, through that first 20, he had some nice early touches on the ball, a couple of little breaks. It would have been great for his confidence and you can expect to see another step up this week from Ferg.”

Burke himself said the experience of those around him made his job easy against the Hurricanes, and with the Crusaders expected to field numerous All Blacks against the Highlanders, the pivot is hopeful things will be similarly straightforward this weekend.

“I think the reason we had fun, I’ll say it again, our forwards laid such a good platform,” Burke told reporters on Monday.

“Then, as you say, having people like Dave Havili and Will [Jordan] at the back, guys that are in the All Blacks environment and just the communication and stuff is such high quality. It definitely makes my job easier as a 10.”

Goodman added that the Crusaders have no injury concerns ahead of this weekend’s fixture, which kicks-off on Friday at 7:05pm.

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