Highlanders battle past Crusaders


It was the first time the Highlanders have made a victorious raid on the Crusaders' fortress since 2008 and it kept them firmly in fifth place on the ladder, while the Crusaders are teetering on the edge of dropping out of the top six.

It also brought the Crusaders crashing down to earth after their comprehensive 52-8 win over the Sharks in South Africa last week.

They started in similarly dominant fashion against the Highlanders and muscled their way to an early 14-3 lead.

But, the Highlanders turned the high-paced game when they made the most of limited possession to score tries on both sides of half-time.

With the first spell all but over, Lima Sopoaga chose to run from inside his own half and as the gaps opened up he put Ben Smith away for their first try.

They were again on the back foot after the resumption when the Crusaders attacked with a two-man overlap only for Waisake Naholo to steal an intercept and scamper 60 metres to the line and the Highlanders hit the front 18-14.

The Crusaders' dominance had started to unravel and they were punished for handling errors and a reluctance to commit too many forwards to the breakdown which let the Highlanders feast on turnover ball.

In an attempt to arrest the slide the Crusaders went to their talented bench and introduced Dan Carter to the game, playing outside fly-half Colin Slade.

But he had no sooner taken his place when Naholo crossed for his second try in five minutes.

With Sopoaga's conversion pushing the Highlanders out to 25-14, having scored 22 unanswered points, it was time for the Crusaders to take their other Test centurian Richie McCaw off the bench.

But not even the All Blacks' captain was able to arrest the steady stream of errors and turnovers by the Crusaders.

The Highlanders were not entirely mistake-free themselves but they compensated for their errors by aggressively attacking the breakdowns to claim turnovers and punishing the Crusaders for not committing enough players to the rucks.

The efforts of the All Blacks-laden Crusaders pack were nullified by the unheralded Highlanders' loose forwards James Lentjes and Elliot Dixon.

Even with all their heavy artillery on the field for the final 25 minutes the Crusaders were held out by the resolute Highlanders defence and needed two penalties by Slade to get within bonus point range. – AFP

Original source: Highlanders battle past Crusaders