The Crusaders snuck a 32-30 victory over the Highlanders on Saturday to move top of the New Zealand conference. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
They were made to work hard for their victory, with the Highlanders pushing them to the wire in another classic Super Rugby encounter.
It was the Saders who made all the early running, with Jordan Taufua opening the scoring after relentless pressure from the visitors.
They were the only points scored in a frenetic opening 20 minutes. Richie McCaw then received a yellow card for repeated infringements, and the Highlanders profited in his absence.
Ged Robinson crashed over for the Highlanders' opening try, before Patrick Osborne finished off a wonderful touchdown as McCaw watched on helplessly.
Colin Slade responded with a penalty as the Highlanders headed in 12-10 to the good.
The Crusaders came out flying in the second half, scoring a try through Tim Perry after a beak from Nemani Nadolo. The big Fijian had a night to remember, running 152m in a barnstorming performance.
Sopoaga then levelled the scores with a penalty before the Crusaders responded with a try from Nepo Lualala.
Nadolo then went over for a well-deserved try that looked to have settled things, but back the Highlanders came.
First Malakai Fekitoa, then Ben Smith scored to set up a grandstand finish. The comeback was not to be though, as Israel Dagg pulled off a try-saving tackle after the hooter to deny Osborne what would've been a match-winning try.
Highlanders – Tries: Ged Robinson, Patrick Osborne, Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga, Hayden Parker. Penalties: Sopoaga, Parker.
Crusaders – Tries: Jordan Taufua, Tim Perry, Nepo Lualala, Nemani Nadolo. Conversions: Colin Slade (3). Penalties: Colin Slade (2).
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Tom Taylor, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Tim Perry.
Subs: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 George Whitelock, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Adam Whitelock, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Richard Buckman,13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Sam Anderson-Heather, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images