The Crusaders beat the Highlanders 45-22 in a fantastic game of Super Rugby at AMI Wyatt Crockett Stadium, Christchurch.
Wyatt Crockett became the first player to reach 200 Super Rugby matches in a career stretching back to 2006 when he debuted against Otago.
The victory ensures that the defending champions will finish top of the New Zealand Conference and cannot be caught.
The Crusaders took a 25-17 halftime lead after tries by George Bridge, David Havili and Scott Barrett cancelled out Tyrel Lomax and Ben Smith’s scores.
Richie Mo’unga scored a sensational second-half try, kicked four conversions and four penalties for a match-haul of 25 points.
Waisake Naholo scored a stunning try after the break, but the Highlanders tactic of kicking high balls on the opposition back three did not pay dividends.
Mo’unga’s try, assist for Bridge’s second score – and boot – was the difference, and too much for the visitors.
The build-up to this game was about one man, Wyatt Crockett who was playing his 200th Super Rugby match.
Crockett’s career has been stellar, winning the tournament three times.
AMI Stadium was renamed ‘Wyatt Crockett Stadium’ for the clash to honour one of their greatest servants.
He led the Crusaders out with his two children and was soon called into action after Joe Moody got injured in the sixth-minute in the build-up to Bridge’s opening try.
The Saders went 18 phases before the winger finished in the corner.
The hosts then went coast-to-coast in typical fashion for another brilliant try.
After being under the pump, and surviving several five-metre scrums on their 5m, they won a scrum-penalty and cleared.
It did not take long for them to turn pressure into points.
The Crusaders won another penalty and kicked to the Highlanders 22.
Ryan Crotty made the break inside the 22 before Bryn Hall threw a long, floating skip-pass out to Havilli on the touchline.
The winger had all the time and space to waltz over for the score.
Mo’unga’s conversion made it 12-nil after 14 minutes.
The Highlanders needed points, fast, and they arrived after some magic by Luke Whitelock.
The No 8 made a break, was tackled under the posts, but offloaded a sublime pass to the onrushing support runner Tyrel Lomax, who was over under the sticks.
Lima Sopoaga’s penalty was sandwiched between two Mo’unga goals as the Crusaders led 18-10 after half-an-hour.
Some big defence by the visitors kept them in touching distance, and then some brilliance on attack, brought them within a point as halftime approached.
Liam Squire, who was excellent at the breakdown, and caused the home team problems at every ruck, set his side off.
Squire won an important turnover, deep inside his half.
Aaron Smith and Richard Buckman turned defence into attack.
The halfback played Sopoaga on the inside and the first-five broke into enemy territory.
He raced forward and confronted with defenders, played Ben Smith on his inside, and the fullback was away.
Instead of going into the break a point down, the Highlanders went in eight adrift.
Otago was caught cold.
Man-of-the-moment Crockett made the break, offloaded to Matt Todd, who played the supporting Andrew Makalio.
The hooker took a tackle, looked inside, saw Barrett, who finished a wonderful try.
It was a typical dagger by the Crusaders.
Crusaders control and pull away.
The second stanza did not go so well for the men from Dunedin.
Too many passes went to ground and their tactics of kicking on the Crusaders’ back-three backfired.
All it did was hand hard-worked for possession back to their opponents, who received it gratefully.
Hall made a mini-break, Mo’unga put in the kick-chase, beat Ben Smith and Sopoaga to the bouncing ball, gathered and scored – easy as you like.
The Highlanders did manage a try of their own a few minutes later.
Naholo collected Rob Thompson’s pass and beat three defenders with his pace to score a wonderful try in the corner.
However, the visitors would need more and they could not rely on rarified feats to stay in the contest.
Sopoaga missed the conversion which still meant the Crusaders had 10 points on their opposition.
The game was a 100 miles an hour, but nobody could breach the respective defences.
Mo’unga added another penalty, but it still meant that the Landers needed to scores.
Time was running down. Mo’unga’s burst of pace sucked in four defenders.
He looked wide and threw a long pass to Bridge on the sideline.
The winger gathered with nobody near him and was in for his second, and 11th of the season: game over.
There was still time for Mounga to add another three, but it was inconsequential.
Final score: Crusaders 45 (25) Highlanders 22 (17)
Tries – Bridge (2), Havili, Barrett, Mo’unga
Pen – Mo’unga (4)
Con – Mo’unga (4)
Tries – Lomax, B. Smith, Naholo
Pen – Sopoaga
Con – Sopoaga (2)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 1: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 2: Jamie Nutbrown
TMO: Aaron Paterson
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Tei Walden, 11 Richard Buckman, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Paripari Parkinson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Guy Miller, 19Jackson Hemopo, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Fletcher Smith.