The Crusaders lost 6-0 to the Highlanders in Carisbrook tonight, with a knee injury to skipper Richie McCaw another blow to the defending champions.

Two penalty goals from Highlanders first-five Daniel Bowden in the second half were enough to beat the Crusaders, who looked to have the match under control but again couldn’t quite breach the opposition defence.

An extra worry for the Crusaders and All Blacks coaching staff was McCaw’s injury. He went off with what appeared to be a knee injury in the 30th minute and it came 10 minutes after in-form wing Jared Payne limped off with an ankle injury.

McCaw and Payne’s ailments add to a long list of injuries in the Crusaders line-up, with Leon MacDonald (shoulder), Casey Laulala (shoulder), Sean Maitland (hamstring), Kade Poki (ankle) and Corey Flynn (broken arm) already out.

It was the Highlanders first victory of the season and the Crusaders third consecutive loss after reverses to the Brumbies in Canberra and Hurricanes at AMI Stadium

The halftime score was an old-fashioned one: 0-0. The Crusaders enjoyed long periods on the Highlanders line but couldn’t quite breach the defence.

The first chance of points for either team didn’t come until the 53rd minute, when Colin Slade missed a 40m penalty for the Crusaders.

The Highlanders first-five Bowden had a penalty chance three minutes later from closer in and he made no mistake.

And he added to the Highlanders lead five minutes later when George Whitelock infringed in a ruck and was sinbinned. It gave the Highlanders a  6-0 lead which they never relinquished.

The midfield of Tim Bateman and Adam Whitelock looked sharp and appeared to have their Highlanders counterparts under control.

Stephen Brett was solid at fullback and his kicking for touch kept the Crusaders in the Highlanders danger zone. Again, however, the Crusaders couldn't turn position and territory into points.

After the break the Crusaders kept up the intensity but again just failed to get through. A promising scrum on attack led only to a ruck and a forward pass to Thomas Waldrom.

With Whitelock off for the final nine minutes, it was always going to be an uphill battle for the Crusaders to score the converted try they needed for victory.

And so it proved, the Highlanders forwards slowing the ball down expertly in the rucks and nullifying the Crusaders backs.

Highlanders - Pens: Bowden 2.

Crusaders - 0

Halftime: 0-0

Crusaders

1. Wyatt Crockett
2. Jason Macdonald
3. Ben Franks (17. Bronson Murray 70 minutes)
4. Brad Thorn
5. Ross Filipo (18. Isaac Ross 66 minutes)
6. Kieran Read
7. Richie McCaw (19. George Whitelock 30 minutes)
8. Thomas Waldrom
9. Andy Ellis
10. Colin Slade
11. Blair Cook
12. Tim Bateman
13. Adam Whitelock
14. Jared Payne (21.Ryan Crotty 20 minutes)
15. Stephen Brett

Reserves not used:

16. Dan Perrin
20. Kahn Fotuali'i
22. Hamish Gard