Highlanders fight back in Christchurch

Date published: April 11 2015

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The Highlanders claimed their first victory in Christchurch since 2008, overturning an early deficit to beat the Crusaders 25-20 on Saturday.

The result sees the Highlanders end a six-game losing streak against their Kiwi rivals thanks to an impressive comeback.

A thrilling match saw the Crusaders race to a 14-3 lead courtesy of two tries from their loose trio, before the Highlanders came storming back with three tries from their back three, including a double for Waisake Naholo.

The host led 14-13 at the end of an all-action first half but the complexion of the game changed dramatically after the interval as the visitors built up a healthy lead early in the second period.

We expected a high-paced game and we weren't disappointed.

Lima Sopoaga opened the scoring for the visitors from the kicking tee early on but the Crusaders were first to cross the whitewash with a brilliant try. Colin Slade made the initial break before sending a long pass wide to Nemani Nadolo, who cut inside to draw two defenders before producing a sensational offload that put Matt Todd clear to score in the corner.

Slade needed some attention from the medics after colliding with opposite number Sopoaga, so Israel Dagg stepped up to slot the conversion from the touchline.

To make matters worse for the Highlanders, Sopoaga was sent to the bin for the hit on Slade. It was a tough call on the fly-half, who appeared to be bracing himself for impact as he tried to pull out of the tackle once Slade released the ball, but the lack of arms meant referee Glen Jackson had little choice but to pull out a yellow card.

The Crusaders were rewarded for a brave decision to turn down three easy points in favour of a scrum as Jordan Taufua crossed over for their second try. The credit must go to Nadolo though for his barnstorming run that sucked in five defenders to create the gap for Taufua.

Slade added the extras to put the hosts 14-3 up at the end of the first quarter and a thrashing looked on the cards.

But Sopoaga pulled three points back for the visitors before his break through midfield set up a try for full-back Ben Smith with half time looming large on the horizon.

Sopoaga added the conversion to put the Highlanders right back into contention as the teams headed for the changing rooms.

The Highlanders charged into the lead soon after the restart as Naholo intercepted a pass from Kieron Fonotia to sprint home from long range.

Malakai Fekitoa was unlucky to be denied a try for a second movement but his team nevertheless bagged a third try soon afterwards as Naholo crossed on the overlap out wide.

Sopoaga added the conversion, meaning the Highlanders had scored 22 unanswered points.

Slade pulled three points back for the Crusaders just before the hour mark and added his second penalty to bring his team within striking distance in the dying minutes.

But the Highlanders' defence held firm, meaning the Crusaders had to settle for a losing bonus point.

The scorers:

For Crusaders:
Tries: Todd, Taufua
Cons: Dagg, Slade
Pens: Slade 2

For Highlanders:
Tries: Smith, Naholo 2
Cons: Sopoaga 2
Pens: Sopoaga 2
Yellow Card: Sopoaga

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 David Havili, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Jimmy Tupou, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Richie McCaw, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Dan Carter, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Pingi Tala’apitaga, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Jason Emery.

Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Kane McBride, Shane McDermott
Television match official: Glenn Newman

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