Will Jordan and Tom Christie scored two tries each as the Crusaders beat the Highlanders 40-20 in Dunedin on Saturday.
The Highlanders and Crusaders went blow for blow like two heavyweights in an enthralling bout, but ultimately it was the visitors who outlasted their opponents courtesy of a stunning second-half rout in which they scored 26 points while conceding only three.
There were a few outstanding individual performances. Jordan, shifted from fullback to wing this week, was again at his brilliant best for the Crusaders. He made a two-try contribution and was a constant threat to the Highlanders’ defence, breaking the line at will to get his team in promising positions on the field and create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
On the Highlanders side, flank Shannon Frizell was immense up front, but it was the masterful display of Aaron Smith that proved to be the catalyst for the Highlanders. His supreme passing range, kicking game and all-round game management were all on full display.
😮⚡ Aaron Smith leading from the front with absolutely electric pace and passing in the build up to the Highlanders’ second try – via our Sky Sport Player Cam 👏 pic.twitter.com/JeiZ9V7f81
— Sky Sport NZ (@skysportnz) July 4, 2020
The Highlanders made all the play in the opening five minutes, but unfortunately failed to make their dominance count on the scoreboard. By contrast, the Crusaders weathered the early storm before wrestling the momentum to take the lead. Richie Mo’unga and Jordan combined to give the visitors an 8-0 lead.
At that stage, the Highlanders defence was at sixes and sevens, so the hosts breathed a collective sigh of relief when referee Mike Fraser halted the game to allow medics to attend to Highlanders lock Josh Dixon, who was stretchered off the field.
The break in play aided the Highlanders as they upped the ante. Smith pulling the strings, they scored 14 unanswered points with Frizell and wing Ngane Punivai dotting down. The Crusaders pulled six points back to level the score at 14 all, but the visitors should count themselves lucky as they got away with a clear forward pass before the Highlanders’ offence leading to the second penalty.
Be that as it may, the show had to go on and it did so without the energy, urgency and intensity levels of either side dropping. Ultimately, the Highlanders hit the front again as Hunt nailed a penalty on the stroke of half time.
The Crusaders were just relentless in the second half, with the Highlanders desperately scrambling to hold on to not let the game slip away. The Crusaders pinned the Highlanders in their own half as they went about seizing control of the contest.
The visitors chalked up 26 points, with Christie bagging a second-half brace and Sevu Reece and Jordan also touching down to wrap up the game and subject the Highlanders to a blowout defeat.
The @crusadersrugby fire back! 🔥
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) July 4, 2020
Highlanders – Tries: Shannon Frizell, Ngane Punivai. Conversions: Mitch Hunt (2). Penalties: Hunt (2).
Crusaders – Tries: Will Jordan (2), Tom Christie (2), Sevu Reece. Conversions: Richie Mo’unga (3). Penalties: Mo’unga (3).
Highlanders – 15 Michael Collins, 14 Ngatungane Punivai, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (c-c), 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dixon, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Jeff Thwaites, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon (c-c), 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23Vilimoni Koroi.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 Leicester Faingaanuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Mike Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor (c), 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Oli Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Sione Havili, 21 Ereatara Enari, 22 Fetuli Paea, 23 Sevu Reece.
Photo: Getty Images