It was an all-South Island affair for the opening match of round 4 of Super Rugby Aotearoa when the Crusaders made the trip south to Dunedin to take on the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Coming off the back of last weeks hard-fought victory over the Chiefs, the Crusaders were primed to continue their recent dominance over their southern neighbours.

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Scott Robertson made a number of changes to his matchday 23 in both the pack and backline. In the backrow Sione Havili came in for Cullen Grace who was deserving of a rest after his epic contribution against the Chiefs in round 3. Havili was joined by Tom Christie who is working towards becoming the 4th All Black produced by Shirley Boys High School.

In the backline, Leicester Fainga’anuku came in for George Bridge with All Black David Havili returning to the fullback role. Fellow All Black Sevu Reece moved to the bench to make way for the impressive Will Jordan on the right wing and Mitch Drummond was in at halfback for Bryn Hall.

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The match ended up being one for the ages. It was tough, skilful and exactly the type of game rugby needs to produce more consistently. Despite the Highlanders giving the Crusaders a scare, the class of the Crusaders shone through and they took South Island honours 40-20.

So how did the Crusaders rate?

1. Joe Moody – 7/10

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Another damaging performance in the scrum and worked hard in the tight. Looked to impose himself in possession more so than last week. Came off the line well and had a reasonable night in defence. However, as the match went on was guilty of multiple infringements which is not the standard an All Black of his standing should be making in such a struggle.

2. Codie Taylor – 8

After a near faultless performance last week in the lineout in the elements, struggled somewhat with his timings early on. Despite those issues, Taylor applied himself to the task of breaking down the Highlanders and lead the way through the middle and was looking for opportunities at width and showed a clean chase to nearly score off a Will Jordan kick. Worked hard over the ball and as a support player.

3. Michael Alaalatoa – 7.5

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Exceptionally strong in the scrum and gave Daniel Leinert-Brown a torrid time of it. Worked hard in defence and, despite falling off the odd tackle, was generally solid. Was stripped by Shannon Frizzell with a loose carry but his stocks continue to rise as a quality tighthead.

4. Samuel Whitelock – 7

Brought all his experience and work ethic when his side was under pressure. Simple forward play executed well. Was in the thick of it.

5. Mitchell Dunshea – 6.5

Worked hard in the tight but didn’t have the greatest night in defence. Enjoyed the intent he wanted to play with and popped up in places one might not expect. A fair effort in a tough, tough match.

6. Sione Havili – 6.5

Didn’t disappoint in defence but wasn’t a factor in attack. Probably due to the fact he was operating in tight as the match required of him. A credible night out.

7. Tom Christie – 8

Has future All Black written all over him. In attack, he worked the wide left channel and was rewarded with two tries for his efforts. Defended tirelessly and worked well over the ball. If there were a criticism it’s that he can tend to be isolated at times in possession but had the class to prevent any turnover.

8. Whetukamokamo Douglas – 8

Tough all night. It is a tough act to follow Keiran Read but Douglas is bringing his own style and operating closer in and proving to be quite a handful. Was dominant at the back of the line out, stealing one off the Highlanders. Quality performance.

9. Mitchell Drummond – 7

Had a wonderful passing game, but tended to miss gaps close to the breakdown when he darted too laterally. Missed the odd tackle but generally gave All Black Aaron Smith a genuine contest which is no easy thing. Would be good to see him back himself with the ball in hand more often.

10. Richie Mo’unga – 8.5

Another class performance by the All Black flyhalf. He didn’t always make the right choice in attack, but he found a way to get his side through the blitz defence of the Highlanders. On defence, he made a try-saving tackle on his own line to prevent a certain Highlanders score and was also the first man into the clean-out when required. Quality shift.

11. Leicester Faingaanuku – 7.5

Started poorly but it didn’t bother him. Showed impressive mentality to get into the game and wanted to compete in everything and did so with a wonderful chase game, but also came off his wing looking for work not far off the ruck. The Crusaders are developing yet another quality outside back.

12. Jack Goodhue – 8.5

Goes from strength to strength. He played something like an open side flanker-centre hybrid. The most valuable Crusader on the park as he is the mortar for so many of the bricks the Crusaders put down.

13. Braydon Ennor – 7

Did his job and did it well. He looked for more work this week and ran a great inverted angle off Tom Sanders that nearly lead to a try. A big performance from him is not far off – all the signs are there.

14. Will Jordan – 9

The most exciting outside back in the competition. He played without fear and restriction and backed himself and was simply a handful for the opposition. This type of performance, built on what he brought last year, is the type of rugby that brings people to the game simply to watch him play. Will demand All Black squad selection.

15. David Havili – 6.5

Had a fair game and some deft touches but sadly left the field with injury.

Replacements:

16. Andrew Makalio – N/A

17. George Bower – 5

Did his bit and maintained the pressure.

18. Oliver Jager – 7

Brought some energy and has some game about him. Who was the last Irishman to make an All Black squad?

19. Quinten Strange – 5

Did his bit in his first Super Rugby match of the year.

20. Tom Sanders – 7.5

The Colonel brought big energy in both attack and defence and would not be surprised if he got a start next week.

21. Ereatara Enari- N/A

22. Fetuli Paea – 5.5

Made his Super Rugby Debut and looks like he has some game about him, but had limited opportunity.

23. Sevu Reece – 8

Brilliant. Scored a wonderful try down the right flank and brought all the energy required at a time when the match was in the balance.

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