Crusaders in sensational comeback
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: The Crusaders came from 21 points behind, scoring four late tries, to bet the Highlanders 30-27 in Dunedin on Saturday.
It was one of the most sensational comebacks in the history of Super Rugby.
The Highlanders held a 27-6 lead with just under 15 minutes remaining.
Then the Crusaders switched into overdrive - starting with a penalty try and three other five-pointers, to secure an unlikely win.
The match between the South Island rivals was fiercely contested but error-strewn, featuring no less than 35 turnovers.
The Crusaders dominated for long periods but were frustrated early before the pressure paid off at the death when Seta Tamanivalu scored with two minutes to go.
"The belief was always there, we knew we could do it if we stuck to our game plan," Tamanivalu said.
The match began at a frantic pace, with the Crusaders relentless on attack but struggling to break through the solid Highlanders' defence.
Possession was cheap as the ball regularly spilled in ferocious tackles and both teams resorted to tactical kicking in the search for space.
The score was 3-all with a penalty apiece at 25 minutes until Gareth Evans broke the deadlock when the Highlanders caught the Crusaders napping with a long line-out throw.
Their defence was at fault again just before half-time when Aaron Smith's speculative kick found Waisake Naholo unmarked and free to cross for a try.
Naholo had his second six minutes after the restart when Lima Sopoaga's chip kick released Fekitoa, whose perfectly timed offload found the giant winger as he charged for the line.
With the score threatening to blow out, the Crusaders thought they had scored twice but were denied both times by committed defence.
The Crusaders finally narrowed the gap when repeated infringements at the scrum from the Highlanders saw referee Paul Williams award them a seven-point penalty try.
The Crusaders began to gain momentum and fullback David Havili scored in the corner to make it 27-18 with 15 minutes to go.
Fekitoa was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle with seven minutes on the clock and the Crusaders made the most of the advantage with Whetu Douglas' converted try making it 27-25.
With just two minutes left, Tamanivalu attacked down the same right-wing channel and again found a gap, sealing the last-gasp win.
Man of the match: Waisake Naholo added some value with his powerful carries, Aaron Smith had one of his best games in a while and Liam Squire was busy, as always. Jack Goodhue and Ryan Crotty were instrumental in that comeback late in the second half, especially with they way they dismantled the Highlanders' defensive line. However, the workhorse and unsung hero comes from the tight forwards - Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock, who wins our award.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Evans, Naholo 2
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 2
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Penalty try, Havilli, Douglas, Li
Cons: McKenzie, Penalty try counts for seven points and does not require a conversion
Pens: Hunt 2
Yellow card: Malakai Fekitoa (Highlanders, 73 - foul play, dangerous tackle)
Highlanders: 15 Richard Buckman, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon (captain), 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Sekenoia Pole, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Patrick Osborne.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 George Bridge.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)