Super Rugby Pacific: Five takeaways from Crusaders v Highlanders including David Havili brilliance

Dylan Coetzee
Super Rugby Pacific: Crusaders star David Havili looks on.

Following the Crusaders’ dominant 52-15 win over New Zealand rivals the Highlanders in Melbourne on Friday, Planet Rugby picks out five takeaways from the action.

David Havili repaints the All Blacks 12 picture

The most debated position in the All Blacks picture ahead of the World Cup later this year is undoubtedly inside centre. Havili was the preferred candidate for much of last year, but the arrival of Jordie Barrett as a quality 12 threw that in doubt whilst code-hopping Roger Tuivasa-Sheck lingers in the background with his best performances in rugby union still ahead of him.

Havili took things into his own hands against the Highlanders and produced a blockbuster performance with a particularly good second half. The centre carried the ball well, distributed with aplomb and kicked cleverly on attack, ending the game with a try and two try assists.

It was truly a fantastic effort typified by the cheeky little dink over the rush defence to set up Richie Mo’unga’s try.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster will be watching with a smile as competition heats up for the inside centre berth in a World Cup year.

Richie Mo’unga is class

The Crusaders were shocked in round one by the Chiefs, losing at home, and very rarely is it written that a big reason for the defeat was that Mo’unga was outplayed by an energetic Damian McKenzie, who was brilliant on the night.

True to the statement, ‘form is temporary, but class is permanent,’ Mo’unga dusted off the demons of last week, packed his wand and treated Super Rugby Pacific fans to another masterclass.

The All Black scored a try and was influential whenever on the ball, whether it was a calm clearing kick, a short ball to a forward pod or a snipe at the line. Mo’unga may be going to Japan after the World Cup, but he is certainly a key piece of the jigsaw for the showpiece in France.

Champions composure

The scoreline won’t suggest it, but the Highlanders started the better of the two sides, particularly in the open 10 minutes. At scrum-time the Crusaders were struggling to deal with the power of the Dunedin men, who were also winning the collision.

However, like any great team under pressure, there was calmness and clarity of thought in the Crusaders’ ranks. The champions waited patiently and pounced on the first real error from their opponents when a ball was kicked out on the full by Sam Gilbert. In typical fashion, the Crusaders punished the error with a converted try.

The Highlanders’ grip was lost completely when Joe Moody found parity in the scrums, and the floodgates opened.

Composure, patience and a winning mentality – that is what separates the Crusaders from other teams.

Worrying times for Highlanders

Another weekend of Super Rugby Pacific and another half-century of points conceded by the Highlanders. 60 against the Blues last weekend and 52 today. Granted, the side started against both of last season’s finalists, but the gap in quality is alarming.

In the clash against Crusaders, the side were missing several All Blacks such as Aaron Smith and Shannon Frizell. Still, regardless of the personnel available, the Dunedin side should not concede 112 points in two games.

The side scrummed well for 15 minutes, but their lineout was poor, losing several in the first half and handing the champions the momentum. Their attacking play was disjointed, and the only shining light in the performance was Thomas Umaga-Jensen who will become crucial to the team this season.

The defending was committed but unorganised at times, fundamentals simply not as good as their opponents. A big turnaround is needed before the season becomes longer than needed.

Mixed bag for Freddie Burns

The Englishman made his first start in Super Rugby Pacific and looked to struggle with the pace of the game. Whilst Burns did have some neat touches and tried to get his team on the front foot with ball in hand, there was a lot left to be desired.

Of course, it must be considered that the Highlanders did not hand the former Leicester Tiger the best platform. However, Burns was guilty of overplaying at times, particularly with attacking kicks, one of which led to a stunning Crusaders try (the same try he could have stopped with a tackle on Mo’unga).

Ultimately there will be matches where Burns has more to work with, but it is games like these where players learn the most, and if the Highlanders are to get anything from this season, the Englishman needs to find his feet and fast.

READ MORE: Richie Mo’unga dummy sends Freddie Burns into touch as Crusaders cruise past Highlanders