Most people in their right might wouldn’t even consider the Highlanders as a contender in this game. The resilience of NZ sides when it comes to Super Rugby can never be discounted though. The derbies in NZ also deliver some of the best rugby of the season in Super Rugby. This one had the potential to be another such day. The Crusaders weren’t going to have it all their way.
The Crusaders absolutely annihilated the Highlanders in the first scrum, but the brilliance of Aaron Smith turned that scrum into an attacking opportunity. It was the same Smith who then slowed down uncharacteristically behind the ruck which kept the Highlanders from scoring. They were however the first ones on the scoreboard from a resulting penalty.
The Highlanders were off to a flyer and they were far more accurate than they had been in the previous games. When you visit the Crusaders that is often not enough. You need to be near perfect. The problem is if the Crusaders are also on song…
The first try of the game came from the Crusaders after multiple phases that didn’t look like there was any effort put into finding the gaps across the field. It was game on!
After the first two tries in quick succession for the Crusaders, the Highlanders snuck one back. It wasn’t long however before Ennor went over for another Crusaders try.
The finishing was impressive, but it was built on the back of a power display at scrum time and during rucks. The Crusaders were 100% ruthless. The Highlanders were going to struggle if they allowed the Crusaders to continue bossing them around at these phases.
The biggest lesson to learn from the game is that the Crusaders always seem to want it more. That is not just a blanket statement, they want everything more. They want to tackle you more. They want to support more. They want to dominate rucks more… There is not an end to the list in 80 minutes of play.
The Highlanders try to bring the score to 26-13 did seem to light a spark in the Highlanders. With a quarter of the game still left you would have felt that an upset was still possible. Their only problem: the Crusaders weren’t joining them in their enthusiasm and hope.
The Highlanders challenge however fizzled out after the Crusaders turned the ball over in their own 22. They then patiently worked it up the field to just past the halfway mark to get a penalty. This was followed by a kick to the corner and a try for Sione Havili.
Once again the Crusaders had simply put the game to bed.
One thing that the Crusaders know to expect from opponents is that they will get their best effort in any contest. Everyone wants to prove themselves against the Crusaders.
The composure of the Crusaders was however on display again. Their efficiency is a sight to behold. It would make any coach proud, but not every coach is able to achieve this. The brilliant Robertson is however not just any coach.
One of the things that I admire most about the Crusaders though is their intensity at the ruck. They are the out and out leaders of ruck play in Super Rugby and probably world rugby. EVERY ruck gets treated like a life or death situation and the results speak for themselves…
They make life hell for opponents on their own rucks and you are unlikely to get your hands on the ball at their rucks. There is a pride and work rate at rucks, unlike any other team.
A much better display from the Highlanders right from the start. It made you think that their Super Rugby title from a few years ago wasn’t just a fluke. They knew they were up against it though playing the Crusaders at home.
They allowed the Crusaders to dominate too many contests. At scrum time and rucks they were being bullied and that is never a platform that you can work from.
Despite continuous promising play led by their general Aaron Smith, it looked like the Highlanders were hoping for the result rather than forcing it. Very rarely in Super Rugby do you pitch up and get the result on the back of hoping… and it never happens against Crusaders.
Stand out players
Crusaders: Joe Moody (1), Cody Taylor (2), Michael Alaalatoa (3), Tom Christie (7), Richie Mo’unga (10), Jack Goodhue (12), Sevu Reece (14), David Havili (15)
Highlanders: Shannon Frizell (6), Aaron Smith (9), Jona Nareki (11), Josh Ioane (12)
ThysRugby player of the game: Jack Goodhue – it was easy to pick him by the 25th minute of the game already. Absolutely dominated the midfield on the attack with multi-dimensional creativity.
Best plays of the game
- First ruck turnover by Crusaders on the halfway mark. Totally swamping the poor Highlanders and winning the penalty
- Jack Goodhue’s drawing of multiple defenders followed by the offload resulting in the Crusaders’ 2nd try
- Aaron Smith’s distribution. It wasn’t one play, but multiple plays. A lot of it is not spectacular, but it was just so many pinpoint accurate passes over long distances throughout the game
- Crusaders defense in the red zone. Efficient, accurate, patient, focused
- The Sione Havili try on that back of a turnover in their own 22… 7 or 8 phases to get over the halfway line… putting the penalty into the corner… executing the set move from the lineout at speed
Crusaders: Playing with 100% conviction in every single facet of the game. If you can’t find a way to unravel them, they will punish you for 80 minutes without letting up. They did that to the Highlanders with clinical efficiency.
Highlanders: They played well at times. Their display would have resulted in wins against a number of other teams in the competition. It was just never going to be enough against the Crusaders.