The Crusaders displayed their championship credentials when they beat the Highlanders 38-14 in Friday’s Vodacom Super Rugby quarter-final in Christchurch. JOHN GOLIATH reports.
The Crusaders led 17-14 at the break following a high quality first half of rugby, which saw both teams score two tries. However, a yellow card for Highlanders flank Liam Squire turned the match on its head, as the home team scored three unanswered tries in the second half to record their 22nd consecutive home Super Rugby knockout victory.
These Crusaders are just the all-round package and will be hard to stop going forward. They overpowered the Highlanders in the scrum, mauled brilliantly and possess backs who run brilliant lines and play with intelligence. Then, on defence, they smother you with their line speed and big hits.
It’s just an intoxicating mix of power and panache that leaves even the best of opponents punch drunk.
The Highlanders started the match really well and were very much in the game before Squire decided tackle a Crusaders player without using his arms. But you always felt the home side just had that little edge – a brilliant kid called Richie Mo’unga.
The Highlanders scored the first try of the encounter when stalwart fullback Ben Smith put Sio Tomkinson away with a fantastic pass to score.
But flyhalf Mo’unga started to take control of the encounter with a little help from their juggernaut pack. The Crusaders No 10 put fullback David Havili in to score with a lovely pass after the home side’s maul managed to make a few metres and put the Highlanders under pressure.
Mo’unga then crossed the line himself after a patient and methodical build-up play from the home team.
The Highlanders, though, hit back four minutes from half-time to go into the break only three points behind the Crusaders after scrumhalf Aaron Smith sent Tei Walden into a gap after clearing smartly from a retreating scrum.
The game, though changed in the 44th minute when Squire was sent to the bin four minutes after the restart. The Crusaders took advantage scored their third try of the match three minutes later when Whetu Douglas went over the line following another powerful Crusaders maul.
Seven minutes Michael Alaalatoa mad his way over the line to score after yet another maul, before Mo’unga completed his brace in the 69th minute for a total points haul of 23 points.
Crusaders – Tries: David Havili, Richie Mo’unga (2), Whetu Douglas, Michael Alaalatoa. Conversions: Mo’unga (5). Penalty: Mo’unga.
Highlanders – Tries: Sio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden. Conversions: Josh Ioane.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 5 Samuel Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c-c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Patelesio Tomkinson, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (c-c), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joshua Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Elliot Dixon.
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images