BNZ Crusaders stun Pulse Energy Highlanders 30-27 with late flurry of tries in Dunedin... It will be remembered by Highlanders fans as the one that got away. 

The Crusaders, like thieves in the night, stormed back from a 27-6 deficit to win 30-27 in Dunedin tonight. Crusaders winger Seta Tamanivalu sealed the win, which seemed most unlikely even 15 minutes earlier, when he streaked down the right-hand sideline and touched down with a couple of minutes to play.

Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty cut inside Highlanders loose forward Gareth Evans.  His try followed late five-pointers to Whetu Douglas and David Havili, with Douglas' and Tamanivalu's winner coming after the Highlanders had been Highlanders fans were left stunned after the final whistle, particularly as they had jumped out to a 21-point lead early in the second half. 

But the Crusaders, who were limited on attack for the first 60 minutes, hit back in style to improve their record to two wins from as many games under new coach Scott Robertson. On the other side of the ledger, the Highlanders are winless after two home games and must now hit the road for away games against the Blues and Hurricanes. 

Coming off a disjointed loss to the Chiefs to start the season, the Dunedin-based franchise started well. Winger Waisake Naholo bagged a double and loose forward Gareth Evans added another to rock the visitors under the roof. 

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There was talk all week from the Highlanders' camp that they wanted less possession than they had - and wasted - during their round one loss to the Chiefs, and that's what they got. Their kicking game was on point, as they bombarded the Crusaders with high kicks  and repeatedly sent them scurrying back into their own half with raking punts. 

All their tries came via set piece, with both Naholo's involving deft kicks - one each from Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga.  Just like last year's game at the same venue, the Crusaders dominated early proceedings but couldn't turn the possession and territory into tries.  Instead, it was the Highlanders who got into their work.   It took 126 minutes of rugby, but their first try of the season - scored by replacement flanker Gareth Evans -  was worth the wait. 

Setup with a lineout 22m out, hooker Liam Coltman delivered a peach of a long throw to flying winger Naholo, who stepped off his left-leg and fed Evans inside to crash over. Naholo went from provider to scorer 10 minutes later, when he latched on to a perfect Smith kick in behind the napping Crusaders.  The Highlanders winger comfortably gassed his opposite, Tamanivalu, who must have been wondering where on earth fullback Havili had gone. He was standing in the defensive line keeping an eye on Richard Buckman, but was soon staring at the scoreboard, which read 17-6 to the Highlanders. 

Naholo's second, which put his side up 27-6 early in the second half, was arguably better. Fekitoa got on the end of a perfect Sopoaga chip, before flicking an inside ball to his rampaging winger. 

However, a monster scrum under the sticks resulted in referee Paul Williams awarding the visitors a penalty try to pull to within 27-13.  Havili added five more points after Tamanivalu slipped him a pass out wide and the comeback was on.  Already riddled with injuries, the Highlanders lost reserve hooker Adrian Smith during the warm up and flanker James Lentjes (dislocated elbow) inside the first minute.

Plenty of Crusaders fans travelled south for the 30th game between the teams, and a red and black flag marking the boundary between the two franchises on the Waitaki River bridge this week was further proof the rivalry still captures the fans' attention. 

The teams will meet again on June 3, when the Highlanders travel to Christchurch for an early afternoon game. 

AT A GLANCE

Crusaders 30 (Penalty try, David Havili, Whetu Douglas, Seta Tamanivalu, Mitch Hunt 2 pen, Marty McKenzie 1 con) Highlanders 27 (Gareth Evans, Waisake Naholo 2 tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 con, 2 pen) HT: 17-6.

Credit:  ROBERT VAN ROYEN from stuff.co.nz