The Highlanders snuck into the playoffs in eighth place on the back of a big win over the Waratahs last week and came north with high hopes of toppling their mainland neighbours.190621CrusadersvHighlandersJD 13

With a host of departing stars and a loud band of supporters in tow, the Highlanders were right in the game until the 45th minute with the score delicately poised at 17-14 to the home side.

But the defending champions only need half a chance to punish their opposition and were handed a golden opportunity when Liam Squire was yellow carded for a no-arms tackle early in the second half. With Squire off the field, the Crusaders punished the Highlanders with two tries from lineout drives to push their lead out to 31-14 and there was to be no coming back for the men from the south.

The first half was knockout footy at its best. A highly intense affair with both teams enjoying time on top as the momentum swung from side to side.

It was the Highlanders who struck first when Rob Thompson spilt through Sevu Reece in the mid-field to put Sio Tomkinson over out wide. Josh Ioane landed the penalty from out wide to give the Highlanders an early 3-7 lead and much-needed belief they could compete with the Crusaders.

The Crusaders were quick to steal the momentum back with pivot Richie Mo’unga featuring prominently. A trademark Crusaders lineout drive drew the Highlanders defence in tight before Mo’unga got the ball at first receiver and put David Havili over with a brilliant ball. Not long after, the Crusaders laid on a passing masterclass to put Mo’unga over for a try of his own.

While both teams were using their full arsenal of tricks out wide, upfront it was a hard, physical battle as neither pack refused to give an inch. Locks Tom Franklin and Jackson Hemopo were standouts as the Highlanders worked their way deep into the Crusaders half and forced two five-metre scrums. Although the Crusaders defused the first scrum attack, they had no answer for the second when Tei Walden barged over from a flat and fast Aaron Smith pass.

Trailing 17-14 at the break, the Highlanders came out in the second half with real belief of causing a boil-over. A frantic opening five minutes in the second half came to a halt with Liam Squire’s no arm tackle on Whetukamokamo Douglas. Referee Jaco Peyper had no choice but to hand Squire a yellow card and the two tries conceded while he was off the field ended their chances.

Richie Mo’unga capped off a brilliant performance with a freak try in the 70th minute when he snatched the ball from Marty Banks’ hands to score. It was quite the statement from the Crusaders who will now face either the Hurricanes or the Bulls at home next week in a massive semifinal. For the Highlanders it is a real end of an era with no less than 10 players departing for the 2020 season.

Scorers: BNZ Crusaders 38 (David Havili, Kieran Read, Michael Alaalatoa tries, Richie Mo’unga 2 tries, pen, 5 con) Highlanders 14 (Sio Tomkinson, Tei Walden tries, Josh Ioane 2 con). HT: 17-14
Match report courtesy of