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Late penalty secures Highlanders pre-season win over Crusaders

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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The Highlanders have opened New Zealand’s Super Rugby Pacific pre-season with a tense 20-19 victory over the Crusaders in Weston.

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In a rain-sodden affair, the hosts came from behind late after having led for the entirety of the match, with a 72nd-minute penalty goal to replacement first-five Marty Banks sealing the deal.

Three minutes prior to that, Crusaders pivot Simon Hickey scored a try in the corner to edge the visitors into the lead for the first time in the encounter, but his missed sideline conversion left the door open for Banks and the Highlanders to snatch the win.

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The Crusaders had previously fought back from a 17-7 half-time deficit, with a penalty try closing the gap not long after the break.

However, the first half work by the starting Highlanders team proved too much for the Crusaders, as wing Mosese Dawai and hooker Liam Coltman crossed for a try each, while Mitch Hunt landed three goals from as many attempts.

Crusaders midfielder Dallas McLeod crossed for his side’s only first half try, which was duly converted by Fergus Burke.

It wasn’t all good news for the Highlanders, though, as two-test Tongan midfielder Fetuli Paea reportedly left the field with an apparent arm injury.

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The Dunedin-based franchise will be hopeful that Paea’s injury isn’t too serious after having lost the 27-year-old for all of last season through a high ankle sprain.

In spite of that, Highlanders head coach Tony Brown will be pleased that his other three major injury returnees – Folau Fakatava, Thomas Umaga-Jensen and Jermaine Ainsley – all got through their work without trouble.

The match also acted as the debut match for various notable figures in the Crusaders camp, including Los Pumas star Pablo Matera, as well as former All Blacks duo Waisake Naholo and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.

The Crusaders will continue their pre-season programme next week when they face the Hurricanes in Queenstown, while the Highlanders have no scheduled fixture after their match against Moana Pasifika was cancelled.

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Highlanders 20 (Tries to Mosese Dawai and Liam Coltman; 2 conversions and penalty to Mitch Hunt, penalty to Marty Banks)

Crusaders 19 (Tries to Dallas McLeod and Simon Hickey, penalty try; conversion to Fergus Burke)

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