BNZ Crusaders secure top spot with win over the Highlanders in Christchurch
- Created: 06 July 2018
This wasn't your usual New Zealand derby, it was a white-hot battle between two rivals who only need the sniff of a contest, whether in Super Rugby or the Mitre 10 Cup, to stir their competitive instincts.
The score was the same as in last week's loss to the Chiefs but this was a significantly different Highlanders side, who in the final count could probably feel that their concession of penalties allowed the BNZ Crusaders to dictate at key stages.
It wasn't only a celebration of prop Wyatt Crockett's 200th Super Rugby appearance but also Michael Alaalatoa's 50th Crusaders game, and All Blacks captain Kieran Read's first game of the year at this level.
Scrum penalties then became a significant factor for both sides. Firstly for the BNZ Crusaders in the 13th minute when, after being under intense pressure on their own line, the Crusaders got a penalty and cleared the ball down field. In the process they unleashed a lineout move with hooker Andrew Makalio sweeping across the lineout like a halfback to work a switch move with wing Seta Tamanivalu around the 15m line. After second five-eighth Ryan Crotty went close to scoring, Hall fired a long pass to the outside where fullback David Havili took the ball and ambled over the line for a try.
From a penalty awarded in the 17th minute, the Highlanders kicked to the corner and claimed the lineout. In the resulting play, No.8 Luke Whitelock took the ball close to the line before prop Tyrell Lomax, in a low-slung position, took a perfect offload to go over beneath the posts.
The BNZ Crusaders looked to be gaining momentum, forcing penalties from the Highlanders but some superb defensive work by Squire created impetus for them to create their own mayhem. From a turnover he secured, the ball popped out of a ruck to Aaron Smith who backhanded the ball to wing Richard Buckman who was still getting up off the ground. Sensing the moment he managed to get a good pass away which resulted in Ben Smith in-passing to first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga who was in a huge gap. He cleared out down field, drawing the defence and then finding Smith in support to break two tackles and pull the Highlanders to within a point.
But in typical BNZ Crusaders fashion they maximised their time in the first half by producing a halftime knocker when Mo'unga found another gap and slipped the ball to Crockett. Flanker Matt Todd was in support and when he ran out of room it was the ever-present Makalio who took the ball forward and then got the ball to lock Scott Barrett whose support was rewarded with the try.
The break offered no respite from scoring action as the BNZ Crusaders made good of a Hall run from the base of the scrum to run wide and pass to Crotty. He had Mo'unga, who had doubled around, outside him to take the ball, kick ahead and then out-run Ben Smith and Sopoaga to secure the bouncing ball and slide over for the try.
But if home fans thought that was the end of the Highlanders, wing Waisake Naholo had other ideas three minutes later when centre Rob Thompson gave him space allowing Naholo to let the afterburners take over to clear out for the try.
The game lost some shape as substitutes were introduced through the middle stages but when the break came it was inspired by a game-shattering burst of speed from Mo'unga and yet another long pass found Bridge in wide open space for his second try heading into the last 10 minutes.
Scorers: BNZ Crusaders 45 (George Bridge 2, David Havili, Scott Barrett, Richie Mo'unga tries; Mo'unga 4 con, 4 pen) Highlanders 22 (Tyrell Lomax, Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo tries; Lima Sopoaga 2 con, pen). HT: 25-17