13 Apr 2019

Clinical Crusaders too good for Highlanders

6:48 am on 13 April 2019

The Crusaders bounced back from an underwhelming first half to score five second-half tries and outmuscle the Highlanders 43-17 in Christchurch last night.

Ben Smith

Ben Smith Photo: Photosport

It was the first time the two teams had met this Super Rugby season, after their March 16 match in Dunedin was cancelled following the Christchurch mosque shootings the day before.

Although the Crusaders initially looked out of sorts and trailed by three at half-time, they proved brutally efficient in the second spell in amassing five tries for a comprehensive win which extended their unbeaten run at home to 24 matches.

The Highlanders started strongly, Ben Smith slicing through the midfield in his 150th Super Rugby match to dot down near the posts after just three minutes.

First five-eighth Josh Ioane, in his first start since round four, added the extras before nailing an 11th minute penalty to give the visitors a useful early lead.

It took the Crusaders another 15 minutes before they managed to break through the well-organised Highlanders defence.

Richie Mo'unga and David Havili combined before the final pass found winger Braydon Ennor, who dived over in the corner for his fourth try on the season.

Trailing 7-10 at the break, the Crusaders took barely 60 seconds from the restart to grab the lead. Centre Jack Goodhue made the initial break, David Havili finishing off a sharp move which featured snappy recycling and good support play.

Ten minutes and a Mo'unga penalty later, the Crusaders capitalised on a series of Highlanders errors to extend their lead to 24-10 courtesy of a penalty try before Sevu Reece and Mitch Drummond crossed to give the home team a 36-10 lead with 10 minutes remaining.

Ioane clawed one back for the Highlanders in the 73rd minute, but the home team responded almost immediately with a sixth try, Will Jordan crossing to secure yet another bonus point win and entrench the Crusaders' position at the top of the New Zealand conference.

"We weren't happy with the first 20 minutes, they came out and put us under pressure and it took us a while to adjust to that," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock told Sky Sport afterwards.