Comeback Crusaders steal win from Highlanders
- Created: 04 March 2017
A crucial call to sin-bin centre Malakai Fekitoa when the man he was opposing in a contest for a high ball, David Havili, fell dangerously, leaving the Highlanders with only 14 men for the final nine minutes, gave the Crusaders the chance to snatch the win in a game that most assumed they had lost.
The BNZ Crusaders, who were down 18-27, at that stage, made the numbers work for them and after crucial mid-field breaks by replacement prop Wyatt Crockett and second five-eighths Ryan Crotty, the chance was provided on the right and No.8 Whetu Douglas scored for replacement five-eighths Marty McKenzie landed a fine sideline conversion to get within two.
The Highlanders kicked deep and when first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga fielded a kick near halfway he attempted a dropped goal which fell short and allowed the BNZ Crusaders to run the ball back. They went 80m and Douglas was in the action again with a strong run which allowed wing Seta Tamanivalu the chance to score the matchwinner in the corner.
Sometimes all the mathematics and statistics surrounding rugby can defy analysis and the Crusaders would have every cause to be scratching their heads when going to half-time 6-17 down having dominated possession and position only to be tryless and battling to turn things around.
The Highlanders's ability to absorb everything the BNZ Crusaders threw at them, including coping with the early loss of flanker James Lentjes, showed that patience can still be a key virtue in the game. At one stage their tackle ratio was 4:1, but the accuracy held until the final quarter.
No sooner did the Highlanders sniff a chance when lock Scott Barrett infringed at a ruck than Sopoaga found touch. From the lineout hooker Liam Coltman threw the perfect long ball over the back of the lineout. Wing Waisake Naholo ran from his blindside wing to be perfectly placed to take the ball, shimmy one way and then the other, before replacement Gareth Evans took the inside ball to run in the opening try.
BNZ Crusaders first five-eighths Mitchell Hunt landed his second penalty goal to reduce the margin to four but again defying the odds, it was halfback Aaron Smith in the process of demonstrating he was regaining his best touch who performed some magic.
He ran to the blindside before putting a kick into wide open hectares in the Crusaders' rear and Naholo raced through unchallenged, got the favourable bounce and scored.
But it didn't end there. Five minutes into the second half Sopoaga got in on the act with clean ball taken from the top of the lineout by Elliot Dixon.
He put an accurate chip to the mid-field and found Fekitoa running the perfect line to secure the ball and instinctively look for Naholo who had positioned himself off his wing again to be in the right place at the right time to score his second.
Having worked their permutations to attempt to get back into the game, the BNZ Crusaders took the time-honoured choice of reverting to the logic of forward power. And when a lineout drive just failed to provide a try for Hunt, when he was held up, and wing Israel Dagg was dropped just short of the line, a pushover scrum did the damage when the penalty try was awarded by referee Paul Williams.
More scrum power was employed to apply the pressure in the Highlanders 22m area and with penalties conceded, the Highlanders made life difficult for their defending pack and eventually the numbers fell for the BNZ Crusaders. Instead of powering their way over the line, they released the ball to replacement halfback Mitch Drummond and wing Seta Tamanivalu sucked in the defence before passing outside to fullback David Havili who scored.
Highlanders 27 (Gareth Evans, Waisake Naholo 2 tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 con, 2 pen)
Crusaders 30 (Penalty try (7points), David Havili, Whetu Douglas, Seta Tamanivalu tries; Mitchell Hunt 2 pen; Marty McKenzie con). HT: 17-6
Match report courtesy of www.superrugby.co.nz (edited)