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Highlanders hang on

03rd March 2012 05:32

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john hardie highlanders v crusaders

Big win: Highlanders prevail

The Highlanders made it back to back wins in Super Rugby after seeing off the Crusaders 27-24 at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.

The hosts outscored their Kiwi counterparts by three tries to two, with new recruit Hosea Gear crossing for the match-winner ten minutes from full-time.

The home fans were left with their hearts in their mouth when Crusaders pivot Tyler Bleyendaal's long-range penalty to level the scores dropped under the bar.

A thrilling encounter took a bizzare turn towards the end, when the Highlanders celebrated victory with three minutes still left to play. The stadium clock showed 80 minutes, but the ref's watch read differently.

Again, the Highlanders thumped the ball into touch and threw their hands in the air thinking it was game over. But once again, the ref signalled for a line-out. With Highlanders fans and players left scratching their heads, the win was finally confirmed after the hosts forward pack were pushed off their own feed in the scrum.

The Crusaders thought they had another chance to steal victory or a draw after Bleyendaal's earlier last-gasp drop attempt had drifted inches wide. But after Jaco Peyper had liased with his touch judge, he blew full-time - much to the annoyance of the visitors.

In the end, it was a well deserved win for the Highlanders, who not only impressed in attack but were dominant at the breakdown.

With Chris Noakes - the kicking hero for the Highlanders in Round One - sidelined and Colin Slade on the bench, it was Lima Sopoaga who took over the kicking duties.

The Highlanders pivot put his team on the scoreboard as early as the second minute, but opposite number Bleyendaal leveled the scores after pushing his first shot at goal wide.

The first try of the match showed the Crusaders at their well-drilled best, Israel Dagg crossing after a set play from the line-out which saw Matt Todd burst upfield with superb support play from Robbie Freuan.

The response from the Highlanders was immediate, though, with Phil Burleigh and Adam Thomson making the hard yards before veteran Andrew Hore sniped around the edges of the breakdown to score. Sopoaga's conversion made it 10-10 after 17 minutes.

The home side restored their three-point advantage through Sopoaga - although they perhaps deserved more after a couple of incisive breaks from impressive flank John Hardie.

However they were rewarded for their efforts on the stroke of half-time as Burleigh evaded the attempted tackle of Kieran Read down the blindside to score in the corner for his second try in two weeks.

Sopoaga's conversion gave the Highlanders a 10-point (20-10) lead at half-time.

Three Bleyendaal penalties were capped off by a well-taken try to scrum-half Andy Ellis thanks to a lightning-quick Crusaders counter-attack while the Highlanders were hot on attack.

Bleyendaal missed the conversion, but he kicked the Crusaders into a 21-20 lead on 54 minutes with a penalty.

Sopoaga missed a regulation shot at goal to put the Highlanders back in front - and the Crusaders made him pay with Bleyendaal's fourth penalty of the match.

The Highlanders refused to give up, though, and they were back in front when Gear showed his finishing prowess in the corner. A series of drives dragged in the Crusaders defence before superb hands from Tamati Ellison gave Gear enough room to score.

Sopoaga added the crucial conversion before the drama unfolded. And the rest, as they say, is history as the Highlanders hung on for a famous win in front of a sell-out crowd.

The scorers:

For Highlanders:
Tries: Hore, Burleigh, Gear
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 2

For Crusaders:
Tries: Dagg, Ellis
Cons: Bleyendaal
Pens: Bleyendaal 4

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Buxton Popoali'i, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 James Haskell, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Colin, Slade, 22, Telusa Veainu.

Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Adam Whitelock, 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willie Heinz, 21 Patrick Osborne, 22 Zac Guildford.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)

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