Ten points down after 12 minutes, the Crusaders ran in six tries on Friday to secure a bonus-point victory.
Starting outside backs Braydon Ennor, David Havili and Sevu Reece all crossed before replacements Mitchell Drummond and Will Jordan added two more tries. Jordan’s five-pointer was his eighth of the season.
The forwards also managed to get in on the act when their pressure forced a penalty try from a five-metre scrum in the 52nd minute, one of three tries in 10 minutes after the break that turned the match decisively in the Crusaders’ favour.
“We weren’t happy with the first 20 minutes. They came out and put us under pressure and it took us a while to adjust to that,” said Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock.
“The best thing is that we did and managed to come out on top of them. A battle against the neighbours is always a tough one and we missed one a few weeks ago so both teams were pretty excited about this.”
With the season’s opening South Island derby cancelled after the Christchurch mosque shootings, this was the Highlanders’ first chance to lay out their stall against the nine-times champions
Josh Ioane kicked a penalty nine minutes later but the error-prone visitors were unable to get on scoreboard again until the match was long lost and the young five-eighth crossed for a consolation try in the 74th minute.
“They were pretty clinical in the second half,” said Smith. “We gave them a few opportunities.
“Against the Crusasders, you’ve got to take everything you’ve got. They’re a pretty class act and setting the standards in Super Rugby.”
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