2 Jun 2012

Crusaders demolish Highlanders

10:39 am on 2 June 2012

Seven-times champion Crusaders crushed the Highlanders 51-18 in Christchurch on Friday to continue their late-season march to the Super Rugby playoffs.

The Crusaders, who hammered the Auckland Blues 59-12 two weeks ago then had the bye last week, now head into the international break comfortably placed for their final three matches of the season.

They moved to 51 points on the points table, two behind the table-topping Waikato Chiefs, who play the Blues at North Harbour Stadium on Saturday.

The match had been billed as a final trial before the All Blacks squad for tests against Ireland is named on Sunday, though national coach Steve Hansen said earlier on Friday he had settled on the 30-man squad, barring any injuries.

After an early George Whitelock try and Carter penalty had given the Crusaders a 10-0 lead, referee Steve Walsh changed the momentum of the match, twice, with yellow cards.

Walsh sent Whitelock to the sin bin for an indiscretion at the breakdown, which allowed Otago flyhalf Chris Noakes to slot his second penalty and then centre Tamati Ellison to bust over for a try that Noakes converted and gave the visitors a 13-10 lead.

Just before Whitelock returned to the field, however, England international James Haskell was sin-binned for a similar offence at the breakdown and the Crusaders struck.

Carter slotted the penalty then Zac Guildford scored two tries following two clever stab kicks by Carter before inside centre Ryan Crotty finished off a sweeping movement that capped the 22-point burst while Haskell was off the field and gave the home side an unassailable 32-13 lead at the break.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw grabbed a controversial fifth try with Walsh missing a possible forward pass and knock on, before prop Wyatt Crockett and replacement flanker Matt Todd barrelled over as the home side hammered home their domination.

Even the Highlanders's second half try came as a result of the Crusaders's dominance, when All Blacks winger Hosea Gear intercepted an Andy Ellis pass inside his own 22 and sprinted away.

Had Gear not intercepted, three Crusaders were lining up outside Ellis with the tryline open.

Brumbies consolidate lead

In Australia the ACT Brumbies had a 27-19 victory over the Melbourne Rebels in Melbourne.

The Brumbies consolidated their lead at the top of the Australian Super Rugby conference, moving to 49 points, nine ahead of the Queensland Reds who have a bye and will be awarded four points at the end of the round.

Short of a major collapse in their final three games the Canberra-based side should make the playoffs for the first time since 2004 - when they last won the competition.