The Crusaders held on to edge the Highlanders 32-30 in an electrifying South Island derby in Dunedin on Saturday.
The Crusaders held on to edge the Highlanders 32-30 in an electrifying South Island derby at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.
If you can watch rugby in heaven, this is the kind of game that should be on the TV!
Eight-tries – four apiece – and a breathtaking finish made for arguably the best Super Rugby clash of the season so far.
It could not have been closer as TMO Vinny Munro denied the home side a last-minute match-winning try when he ruled that the ball had hit the touchline and tryline simultaneously as wing Patrick Osborne dived into the corner. It's a decision that will long be debate and could have huge repercussions. In fairness it was a question of millimetres and could have gone either way.
The Highlanders led 12-10 at the interval thanks to tries from hooker Ged Robinson and Osborne after the Crusaders had opened the scoring through a Jordan Taufua try.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder had raised eyebrows by benching his All Black front row but his decision was vindicated when second-string props Tim Perry and Nepo Laulala both scored after the break to put the visitors in front.
Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo's try on the hour mark secured the bonus point and gave the visitors a healthy lead but the Highlanders bounced back again as centre Malakai Fekitoa and full-back Ben Smith touched down in the last quarter to set up a grandstand finish.
The Crusaders charged out of the blocks, hammering the Highlanders scrum and showing the intensity that was missing in last week's loss to the Sharks. Taufua crashed over from short range to cap a period of sustained pressure.
Indeed the visitors dominated the opening quarter but the momentum swung in the Highlanders' favour when Richie McCaw was yellow carded for cynically killing the ball.
With McCaw in the bin, the Highlanders got on the scoreboard as Robinson hit Aaron Smith's pass at pace to crash over.
Osborne bagged the Highlanders' second try shortly afterwards, beating four defenders down the touchline after a great offload by Fekitoa, who had another outstanding game.
The Crusaders hit back immediately after the break as Perry crashing over but Lima Sopoaga levelled the scores at 15-all going into the final half hour with a penalty.
Laulala scored the Crusaders' third with some smart close-quarters work after another barging run by Nadolo, who set up both tries for his props.
Israel Dagg was at the origin of try number four with some fancy footwork as he put Nadolo over in the corner.
Fekitoa found his way over out wide with another excellent try with 13 minutes left before Ben Smith crossed in the opposite corner after an eye-catching display of handling from the hosts.
The Highlanders were camped on the Crusaders line in the dying minutes until Osborne headed for the corner and left TMO Munro with a tough call.
Tries: Robinson, Osborne, Fekitoa, B. Smith
Cons: Sopoaga, Parker
Pens: Sopoaga, Parker
Tries: Taufua, Perry, Laulala, Nadolo
Cons: Slade 3
Pens: Slade 2
Yellow card: McCaw
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 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.
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.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 George Whitelock, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Adam Whitelock, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)