Not many have given the Highlanders much of a chance of doing the Blues and Hurricanes a favour in dispatching the Crusaders in Christchurch this weekend.

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The hosts were strong favourites leading into the South Island derby with the Super Rugby Aotearoa crown in reach.

Sitting atop of the table, the reigning Super Rugby champions needed just a win to clinch the title against fourth-placed Highlanders, who had only tasted success twice this season from six outings.

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Aaron Mauger speaks to media

Playing in front of a packed house at Orangetheory Stadium, the hosts were understandably paying small money to bag the victory, but the Highlanders sent an early warning of intent.

While they have nothing left to play for in the domestic league, the Dunedin club started the game in manner that showed they weren’t there to simply make up the numbers.

That was reflected in the way their forward pack smashed their way through a limp Crusaders defence in the opening passage of play from the kick-off, which led to a monstrous try from in-form All Blacks loose forward Shannon Frizell.

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The rapid start put the Highlanders at an early 7-0 advantage, keeping the Blues’ and Hurricanes’ faint title chances alive in doing so.

It also drew an emphatic response from pundits on Twitter, who were quick to laud Frizell’s efforts throughout the first 40 minutes.

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