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'There's no love lost': Blood on the menu in Friday's southern derby

By Tom Vinicombe
Scott Barrett. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

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The Crusaders will be out for revenge on Friday night when they take on the Highlanders in Dunedin.

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Last season, the Highlanders consigned the Crusaders to just their second defeat in Christchurch under Scott Robertson’s reign, thumping the eventual Super Rugby Aotearoa champions 33-12.

That result came on the back of a less-than-savoury week for the Highlanders, who had a number of players stood down for the match after breaching team protocols, but even that wasn’t enough to deter the side from handing the Crusaders’ one of their biggest-ever losses.

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Pablo Matera joins the Aotearoa Rugby Pod to discuss his move to NZ.

While this weekend’s fixture will be played under the roof of Forsyth Barr Stadium, it still presents the Crusader the perfect opportunity to get back at the team which embarrassed them last season.

“It’s pretty fresh,” Robertson said of the loss on Wednesday. “They were exceptional that night, the Highlanders. It was hard for me to actually remember a mistake; they were pretty error-free.

“They came off the back of a tough week for them and showed a lot of spirit. It’s still fresh in our mind and we understand that the rivalry’s still strong.”

For midfielder David Havili, the match presents the opportunity for the man who captained Tasman to back-to-back provincial titles in 2019 and 2020 to square off against some of his Mako teammates, with Mitch Hunt, Shannon Frizell and Hugh Renton all named in the Highlanders’ 23 for the match

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“It’s always good fun when you come up against a few local lads,” Havili said. “There’s no love lost between the Highlanders and Crusaders so it’s going to be about competing and doing the best for our team.

“There’ll be a few funny words exchanged out on the field, hopefully, and a wee bit of banter.”

The Crusaders have had the wood over their southern neighbours throughout Super Rugby’s 27-year history, with the Highlanders managing just 12 wins in over 40 matches, and just four in the last decade.

 

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Still, it’s the last result that’s on everyone’s mind, when former Crusaders pivot Hunt put on an exemplary display to score 18 points for the Highlanders. It’s results like that which simply add to the ongoing conflict between the two sides.

“We’ve had some great rivalries over the years,” Robertson said. “Under the roof, it’s a home game for them. We understand Tony Brown’s mindset and they can get up, especially for us. We know that in recent times.

“They’re a great team, they’re great games, we love them. They’re gonna be high-tempo. When you’ve got an Aaron Smith playing for them, anything can happen.”

While the Highlanders are at home for the match, it will be played in front of an empty crowd and the Crusaders boast plenty of potent weapons in their backline who will be more than capable of exploiting the inevitably exemplary conditions under the roof.

Given what happened in 2021, the Crusaders will come of the blocks hungry for blood and the Highlanders will have to be at their cohesive best to keep the visitors from racking up the points.

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