The second quarter-final of the 2016/17 Super Rugby season saw the Crusaders host the Highlanders for a place in the semi-finals.
After an almost perfect regular season, the Crusaders were considered favourites before kick-off to go on and win the match. However, a Highlanders side which boasts the likes of Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Aaron Squire and Toulon’s newest signing Malakai Feikitoa couldn’t be written off.
Wet and windy conditions signalled that whichever pack got the ascendancy would determine the winner – and with the Crusaders boasting seven All Blacks in their starting pack, a win for the home side looked likely.
Aaron Squire got the ball rolling with a late shoulder charge on Crusaders fly half Richie Mo’unga, leading to ten minutes in the bin and three points to the home side. The Crusaders set pieces were effective against a Highlanders side which was often on the backfoot, providing the platform for their first try through Joe Moody after a dominant scrum.
The home side held on to the ball whenever they had it, attaining 73% of the possession and 80% territory in the first half. Another strong scrum on the Highlander’s five-metre line saw Codie Taylor go over for a try, with Richie Mo’unga making the score 17-0 at the break.
Despite managing to get their hands on the ball more in the second-half, the Highlanders couldn’t get on the score board. It was the weather that ultimately decided the fixture, as well as a more experienced Crusaders pack and Richie Mo’unga’s right boot.
The result gives the Crusaders 15 wins in a single season, more than any other side in the history of the competition. They will face the Chiefs for a place in the Investec Super Rugby final.
Graham Manditsch, Pundit Arena