Dan Carter's excellent game management and goal-kicking was the difference in the Crusaders' 40-12 win over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI.
The Highlanders struck early through fullback Ben Smith, although it was a miraculous round-the-back-pass by Tamati Ellison that created the opportunity for the hosts. Colin Slade converted the try, but would go on to miss two penalty attempts in the first half. This proved costly, as the Highlanders trailed 13-7 at the break.
Jarrad Hoeata was yellow-carded in the 20th minute for making contact with the face of a Crusaders player, and while the Highlanders defended well during that period of disadvantage, they were eventually opened up by Carter.
The All Blacks flyhalf danced through a gap and so very nearly finished the attacking movement by himself. When he was scragged a couple of metres before the line, he offloaded to captain George Whitelock, who was rewarded for his support with a try.
It was a big moment in the game, as the Crusaders took the lead and began to assume control. The visitors dominated the set pieces, and Carter continued to kick the Crusaders into good field positions from where they could apply more pressure on the Highlanders.
A try by Andy Ellis and a conversion by Carter shortly after half-time took the Crusaders to a 13-point lead. The Highlanders attempted to fight back, and were rewarded when Hosea Gear powered over the tryline in the left-hand corner.
Unfortunately for the hosts, Slade proceeded to miss his third kick of the night, leaving the Highlanders trailing by eight points. It got a lot worse for the Highlanders when Ma'a Nonu spear-tackled Tom Marshall and was shown a red card.
The Crusaders then lost a man to the sin bin when replacement hooker Corey Flynn was yellow-carded for a high tackle. And yet, the visitors still managed to finish the game strongly.
Carter completed a great all-round performance with a try of his own late in the match. He would eventually finish the game with an eight-from-eight kicking record, and a personal tally of 25 points.
Right on full-time, Carter also threw a chancy pass to spark the movement that would secure the four-try bonus point.
Replacement wing Telusa Veainu set off on a fantastic run and scored a try that could make a big difference to where the Crusaders will finish on the combined Super Rugby log.
Highlanders – Tries: Ben Smith, Hosea Gear. Conversion: Colin Slade.
Crusaders – Tries: George Whitelock, Andy Ellis, Dan Carter, Telusa Veainu. Conversions: Carter (4). Penalties: Carter (4).
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Elliot Dixon, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Jake Paringatai, 19 TJ Ioane, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Lima Sopoaga, 22 Ma'a Nonu.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Robbie Fruean, 22 Telusa Veainu.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images
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