The Crusaders scored two tries in the final three minutes to beat the Highlanders 43-38 in a pre-season match in Southbridge on Friday.
The defending Vodacom Super Rugby champions were 14-7 ahead at half-time, but the lead changed hands several times in a competitive second half, with the Highlanders leading 38-31 before tries from lock Mitchell Dunshea and fullback Will Jordan gave the Crusaders the win.
Despite not including a full set of All Blacks, both sides had relatively strong starting lineups, with the Crusaders being led out by flank Whetu Douglas, while the Highlanders were captained by Luke Whitelock.
The Highlanders were the first on the board through a converted try from hooker Liam Coltman, but the Crusaders hit back through tries from flank Jordan Taufua and centre Tim Bateman.
A tight second half saw Crusaders replacement flank Tom Sanders score a brace of tries to go with Manasa Mataele’s effort, which gave the Crusaders a 31-26 lead. The Highlanders’ points came through two tries from centre Sio Tomkinson and one from flank James Lentjes.
That set up a grandstand finish as flyhalf Josh Folau went over to give the Highlanders the lead for the second time in the match, and the visitors then made it 38-31 when wing Josh McKay scored.
However, with just three minutes to go, the Crusaders reduced the deficit when Dunshea touched down, before Jordan crossed in the final minute.