Richie Mo'unga on the charge. Ross Setford
Super Rugby

Crusaders cruise to third straight win after sizzling second-half display

In yet another superb game of Super Rugby, the Crusaders finished off the Highlanders in style with three tries in the final quarter.

Highlanders 20-40 Crusaders

THEY CAME INTO this game hoping to match the Blues’ unbeaten start and they left it by reminding everyone, not least their Auckland rivals, that they are the team to beat.

The pedigree of the Crusaders simply cannot be questioned, not just because this was a local derby, not just because they collected maximum points from the Highlanders’ Dunedin base but also because when the pressure was on in the second half, they delivered in a big way.

In particular, the last 20 minutes was extraordinarily good. In the blink of an eye, a tight game turned into a procession, the 20-point margin proving to be a little unfair on the hosts, but illustrative again, of the Crusaders class.

Everyone impressed. Up front, their front row combo of Moody/ Taylor/Alaalatoa schooled their less experienced opponents; at out-half, Richie Mo’unga delivered yet again; but right wing Will Jordan stole the show, providing pace and a poacher’s eye for a chance out wide.

The game lived up to the hype in the first-half, the Highlanders taking a slim lead into the break on the back of some superb rugby in open play. In contrast, the Crusaders set-piece proved superior, and once they addressed their own issues under the high ball and in terms of ball retention, they began to play with more assurance.

In the final analysis, the Highlanders will rue a couple of missed chances, will reflect on a job well done for 75 minutes and a bit of a meltdown in the final five, when a six-point gap was stretched to 20.

Still, they showed character, especially as the Crusaders started more brightly, talking an eight point lead inside the opening 15 minutes, firstly when Mo’unga kicked a 10th minute penalty, later when Jordan finished superbly in the corner following initial breaks by Codie Taylor and Leicester Faingaanuku.

Mo’unga  missed the conversion and for a while it looked as if this may haunt him as the Highlanders came right back into it, scoring a fine try on 20 minutes, a multi-phased passage of play leading to Shannon Frizzell crossing for their first try of the night.

Five minutes later they had another score, Ngane Punivai with the try, Hunt with the conversion, the Highlanders now with a 14-8 lead.

Soon it would be cut, Mo’unga scoring two penalties on 30 and 35 minutes, before Hunt got the final score of the half just before the break. 17-14, Highlanders. An upset on the cards?

Well, we know now there wouldn’t be, Jordan continuing his fine form with a superb offload, Sioni Havili with a burst through the Highlanders defence, Tom Christie with the finish.

Hunt kicked a 56th minute penalty to keep the Highlanders in touch but when Sevu Reece crossed on 60 minutes – following a leap, a catch and a brilliant finish – the Crusaders had a six-point lead and were looking good.

They looked even better 17 minutes later when Christie scored yet another try in the left corner and by the time Jordan collected his own kick to race clear from half-way, there was no one going to catch either him or the Crusaders. Not on this day.

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