Crusaders show more style in Dunedin win

Getty Images

Lynn McConnell     22 Feb 2015     Getty Images

Showing all the benefits of lessons learned from their harrowing loss to the Rebels in the first round, the Crusaders took advantage of the fact the Highlanders were playing their first Investec Super Rugby game.

That required playing at a quick clip and with first five-eighths Colin Slade calling the shots they dominated the first three-quarters of the game with plenty of hard running from second five-eighths Ryan Crotty, fullback Israel Dagg and wing Robbie Fruean to sap the Highlanders defences.

The Crusaders made the adjustment from their poor display of the first round and were much more committed. That may have had something to do with the impetus provided by lock Scott Barrett, who made his starting debut and celebrated with a try and almost scored another in a fine display.

The home team, in spite of their first round bye, soon picked up the momentum and demonstrated that when responding to first five-eighths Colin Slade's 17th minute penalty goal that opened the scoring.

Carrying the ball deep into the Crusaders 22m, lock Joe Wheeler breached the advantage line to set up a ruck near the goal-line and halfback Aaron Smith ran blind to cut back past the tackle attempt of Richie McCaw.

However, the Crusaders built another assault, and after a Slade penalty attempt rebounded off the goalpost, a siege occurred as several low-slung drives were made at the goal-line. Finally, in the 26th minute Barrett drove over.

Fielding a Crusaders kick in midfield, first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga took the ball and cruised into space and looked to have set up a great chance for the Highlanders. However, instead of linking outside to the unmarked centre Malakai Fekitoa, he went inside to second five-eighths Jason Emery, only to throw a forward pass.

But strong runs by Slade and Dagg saw the Crusaders pitch their tent in the Highlanders 22m area and after several more drives it was right wing Johnny McNicholl who bashed his way over just after the half-time hooter.

Had Slade's goal-kicking been more accurate, the game would have been beyond the home team. Twice penalty goal attempts rebounded off the posts while he missed a third. However, as they managed to get wing Waisake Naholo more involved in the game with some charging runs, the Highlanders kept their hopes alive.

And after an impressive period of attacking play, it was Fekitoa who stormed across by the posts to score. A Sopoaga penalty goal got the Highlanders within seven points with seven minutes of the game left.

However, handling mistakes inflicted when detained in their own half denied the Highlanders their chance, and when Slade landed his fourth penalty goal the win was beyond doubt.

The only satisfaction for the Highlanders was a last minute penalty goal Sopoaga landed to claim the bonus point for finishing within seven points.

Scorers: Highlanders 20 (Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa tries; Lima Sopoaga 2 con, 2 pen) Crusaders 26 (Scott Barrett, Johnny McNicholl tries; Colin Slade 2 con, 4 pen. HT: 7-20