Highlanders put turbulent week behind them to consign Crusaders to shock first defeat of season
Tries from Billy Harmon, Michael Collins and Connor Garden-Bachop did the damage for the Highlanders, who climbed off the bottom of the ladder and up into third with only their second win of the campaign.
Mitch Hunt impressed throughout, kicking 18 points in the Good Friday clash in Christchurch.
The Crusaders, who still lead the standings after five games, failed to find their form after going into the match off the back of a bye week.
Two successful penalties from Hunt gave the visitors a 6-0 lead inside the first 19 minutes, with Harmon adding the first try six minutes later.
Pari Pari Parkinson was stopped just short of the line but scrumhalf Folau Fakatava moved the ball wide for Harmon to drive over.
Hunt continued to rack up the points with a conversion and another penalty as Tony Brown’s side took a commanding lead only for the Crusaders to edge their way back into the game in the dying moments of the half.
With the hooter having sounded for the completion of the first 40 minutes, the Crusaders kept the ball alive until Codie Taylor smuggled his way over the line to reduce the deficit to 16-7 at the break.
The Crusaders were lifted by Taylor’s try, but dogged defensive work by the Highlanders kept the home side at bay as they made a bright start to the second period.
The Highlanders gained some breathing space when Hunt added his fourth penalty and centre Collins scored his try 22 minutes from time after a Will Jordan miss-kick gifted possession to the Highlanders close to the Crusaders’ line.
David Havili reduced the deficit 11 minutes from time but his fellow All Black Richie Mo’unga missed the conversion and Canterbury’s hopes of a comeback fizzled out, with Garden-Bachop’s late try sealing a memorable night for the Highlanders.
Highlanders 33 (Tries to Billy Harmon, Michael Collins and Connor Garden-Bachop; 2 conversions and 4 penalties to Mitch Hunt)
Crusaders 12 (Tries to Codie Taylor and David Havili; conversion to Richie Mo’unga)
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