The Highlanders crushed the Crusaders 12-33 in a stunning upset in Round Six of Super Rugby Aotearoa at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch.
The Highlanders broke a seven-game Super Rugby losing streak against the Crusaders, while also winning their second game of the season, as they dismantled a sorry Saders on an eventful Good Friday.
There was nothing, however, good about this Easter holiday beatdown for the 11-times champions. Simply put, they laid an almighty egg on the aptest of weekends.
Tony Brown’s charges out-scored their hosts three tries to two in an emphatic beatdown of the famous franchise. Mitch Hunt starred, scoring 18 points in the record-away win.
The first-five converted all three tries and added four penalties as Ash Dixon’s side dismantled an unusually poor Crusaders, who did not turn up.
This was an all-round effort from the entire Landers’ squad and coaching staff
Take nothing away from the victors, they were sensational, pounding the opposition into the dirt.
The stunning victory is the first time the Dunedin-based side has won multiple regular-season away games against fellow New Zealand opponents in Super Rugby since 2015.
The disappointing defeat is the first of the 2021 campaign for the defending champions; however, they still sit top of the Super Rugby Aotearoa table.
This was a clash between an undefeated table-topping side and a struggling bottom-of-the-log team with one win.
However, by the end of the contest, one would have thought the Highlanders were high-flying, and that the Crusaders were the bottom dwellers such was the one-sidedness of the game.
Highlanders dominate from start to finish, outclassing Scott Robertson’s side
The Highlanders asserted themselves in the first half, taking a deserved nine-point lead into the shed on a cold and wet night in the South Island.
It was one of those games where every player for the visiting side played out their boots, conversely, every player had a shocker for the hosts.
Super Rugby Aotearoa Round 6 Video Highlights: Crusaders vs Highlanders at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
The Dunedin men disrupted the breakdown, winning multiple turnovers and penalties, and the Otago side forced their Canterbury counterparts into eight handling errors in the first stanza.
The tackle count favoured Tony Brown’s men, who had the better of the territory (57%) and possession (61%) as the hosts struggled to put together any sustained attacks.
Robertson’s side leaked penalties as Brwon’s charges put them under the pump. Unlike most teams who come to Christchurch, the Landers took the points on offer.
Hunt kicked two penalties to make it 6-0 to the visitors in the opening quarter. Hunt then converted Billy Harmon’s 24th-minute try and kicked another penalty as the visitors went 16-nil up after 34 minutes.
In truth, it should have been more. Hunt missed a penalty, and the Crusaders – as they always do – scored after the hooter to get on the board.
The Crusaders, normally clinical and methodical, were anything but as the mistakes mounted. However, they managed to score at the death of the half to give the crowd something to cheer.
No Crusaders fight-back as Highlanders increase the tempo
It was that man Codie Taylor again, who crashed over from close range following a disjointed, error-strewn half by the defending champions. Mo’unga converted.
The home team’s unforced errors continued after the interval. Hunt added his fourth penalty on 52 minutes to open up a 12-point advantage after Scott Barrett infringed.
Robertson’s side could not shift the momentum gained from the end of the first half, or capitalise early in the second when they had multiple chances.
Brown’s side, however, stopped the home team in their tracks, put them under pressure, forcing them to go away from their game-plan.
The Landers hit more rucks, conceded fewer turnovers and penalties, and they took their chances –– the Saders did not.
The Highlanders continued to frustrate their hosts, forcing them into uncharacteristic errors as the Crusaders looked to play expansive rugby in the wet conditions.
Michael Collins crashed over before the hour mark after mistakes from Mo’unga and Will Jordan. Hunt converted to make it 7-26 going into the final quarter.
There was no miracle comeback by the ‘Kings of the Comeback’; instead, they floundered as the Landers turned the screw.
David Havili dotted down with 11 minutes to play to reduce the deficit to two converted tries. Mo’unga, surprisingly, missed the easy conversion.
Connor Garden-Bachop swooped on another mistake to seal the deal. Hunt converted to cap a fine all-round display at first-receiver.
Final Score: Crusaders 12 (7) Highlanders 33 (16)
Tries – Taylor, Havili
Con – Mo’unga
Tries – Harmon, Collins, C. Garden-Bachop
Pen – Hunt (4)
Con – Hunt (3)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 1: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 2: James Doleman
TMO: Ben O’Keeffe
15 Will Jordan, 14 George Bridge, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 David Havili, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Sione Havili Talitui, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett (captain), 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 George Bower, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Fergus Burke, 23 Sevu Reece
15 Connor Garden-Bachop, 14 Scott Gregory, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Folau Fakatava, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Paripari Parkinson, 4 Bryn Evans, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ethan De Groot
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 22 Caleb Makene, 23 James Lentjes