The Highlanders were back at home for their Saturday night clash with the undefeated Crusaders, having been tipped up by the Blues in Auckland last weekend.

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While it was a cool night in Dunedin, a little bit of dew on the field was all the two sides had to cope with thanks to Forsyth Barr’s roof – and both teams took the opportunity to spin the ball wide and play with plenty of depth.

Although the Highlanders have been on a run of good form against their northern neighbours for the last few years, the first Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between the two teams fell the way of the visitors, who romped to a 40-20 victory after scoring two tries in the final five minutes to blow out the score.

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Sam Smith reports from the world’s first live rugby match in Dunedin as the Highlanders take on the Chiefs in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Who were the best performers for the defeated Highlanders?

1. Daniel Lienert-Brown – 4

Didn’t quite excel in the open like we’ve sometimes seen and was monstered at scrum time by Michael Alaalatoa. Conceded the first penalty of the night for not rolling out of a tackle. Off in 40th minute and won’t have threatened Ayden Johnstone’s starting spot.

2. Liam Coltman – 6.5

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One early yip with the lineouts but otherwise was accurate as necessary. Busy tackler but not as influencing in the breakdowns. Did manage an important turnover early in the second half after the Crusaders had amassed 15 phases on attack. Off in 47th minute.

3. Jeff Thwaites – 4

Didn’t cop the scrum penalties that Lienert-Brown did but was probably equally at fault – destroyed by Joe Moody. Like Lienert-Brown, didn’t offer much in the open and his performance of his core duties was left wanting. Off in 40th minute.

4. Pari Pari Parkinson – 5

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Very hand in open play, showed deft hands at times, but didn’t offer too much on defence. Deserved to be yellow-carded after committing an egregious tackle off the ball early in the second half. Plenty of potential and has the measurements to be a great lock but clearly not yet the complete package.

5. Josh Dickson – N/A

Penalised for (pretty clearly) going off his feet at the breakdown which handed the Crusaders their first attacking opportunity inside the Highlanders’ 22 and, ultimately, their first 3 points of the game. Left the field on a stretcher 5 minutes later. Replaced in 17th minute.

6. Shannon Frizell – 8

Handy at kick-offs. Brilliantly powerful run, carrying five defenders with him to score the Highlanders’ first try. Stripped the Crusaders’ carriers on more than one occasion and was one of the busiest defenders on the park. Will have reminded the All Blacks selectors that they don’t necessarily have to blood any new talent in the 6 jersey.

7. Dillon Hunt – 7.5

Possibly his best performance on a rugby pitch since he made his All Blacks debut back in 2018. Disruptive at the breakdown and was more damaging on attack than we’re used to. Massive shift on defence, too, topping the tackle charts with 18 to his name.

8. Marino Mikaele Tu’u – 7

Didn’t quite light up the world as we’ve come to expect but a tidy shift nonetheless. Managed to hold on to Codie Taylor from an untidy Crusaders lineout which temporarily stopped the Crusaders’ momentum. Penalised for an illegal breakdown steal but was a little bit hard done by. Made up for that indiscretion with some excellent work to earn a breakdown penalty late in the game which kept the Highlanders in with a chance when the Crusaders were threatening. Off in 76th minute.

9. Aaron Smith – 9

The best performer of the night – on either team. Accurate flat passes right on the advantage line gave his side the momentum they needed to knock the defending Crusaders back. Brilliant break and then quick delivery to create the Highlanders’ second try of the night and his quick passing was the starting point for everything good the Highlanders did. Even made a clutch tackle on Taylor to stomp out a certain Crusaders try early in the second half. Off in 72nd minute.

10. Mitch Hunt – 7

Some good footwork and reliable goal-kicking kept the Highlanders in the contest. Earned plenty of metres for the Highlanders when he challenged the line. Put up one too many uncontestable high balls and was guilty of handing possession back to the Crusaders.

11. Jona Nareki – 5

Added attacking impetus early on to get the Highlanders over the gain line and into an attacking position in Crusaders territory. Missed twice as many tackles as he made and looked uncertain about his positioning at times but clocked up the most metres on attack of any of the Highlanders. Docked a point for not giving the final pass when the Highlanders had an easy scoring opportunity. Game-defining moment.

12. Sio Tompkinson – 7

Big effort on defence, making 10 tackles and missing just two, but couldn’t find any gaps in the Crusaders line. Good work over the ball to get an early turnover – but then his centre partner threw a clanger of a pass.

13. Rob Thompson – 6.5

Showed some good acceleration on attack and almost made a couple of half breaks. Had to make many a tackle in the crowded midfield and was rarely found wanting. Tracked across the width of the field and somehow almost managed to prevent the first Will Jordan try but couldn’t quite get enough of the Crusaders wing.

14. Ngane Punivai – 5

One well-taken try in the 25th minute but had little time to really make a mark on the game and was taken off in 35th minute for a HIA but never returned.

15. Michael Collins – 5.5

Had little impact on the game as a whole – which is probably a step up from what the Highlanders have had to deal with in the season to date. Wasn’t peppered with high balls but was safe when called upon an threw the last pass for Punivai’s try.

Reserves:

16. Ash Dixon – 6

On in 47th minute. Full of vigour and typically accurate.

17. Ayden Johnstone – 5

On in 40th minute. Faired slightly better than the starting Highlanders props – slightly. Busy on defence.

18. Siate Tokolahi – 5

On in 40th minute. Also clocked up his fair share of tackles but offered nothing on attack.

19. Jack Whetton – 6

On in 17th minute. Took over the lineout calling from Josh Dickson. Busy in the breakdowns. Swam around the maul to stop a dangerous Crusaders attack in the final quarter.

20. Teariki Ben-Nicholas – N/A

21. Kayne Hammington – N/A

22. Bryn Gatland – N/A

23. Vilimoni Koroi – 5

On in 35th minute. Like the man he substituted, didn’t have too much work to do on the right wing. Probably needed to go looking for work more.

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