Highlanders to test unbeaten Crusaders in Super clash
REACTION: The Crusaders will pitch their unbeaten 13-match run against the in-form Highlanders in an enticing Super Rugby showdown after yet another New Zealand rampage this weekend.
The seven-time champions registered a 41-19 bonus-point victory over the hapless Melbourne Rebels to protect an 11-point lead at the top of the all-conquering New Zealand conference with one week remaining until the break for the international Test window.
The Crusaders look set to finish top of the regular season standings, but they face a test of their title credentials against the Highlanders at home next weekend.
The Highlanders flexed their muscles with a 44-28 win over Australia's Waratahs in Dunedin for their ninth consecutive win, and fancy their chances of ending the Crusaders' march.
The benchmark Crusaders scored six tries to three and although they encountered stiffer resistance from the Rebels in the second half after leading 31-7 at half-time, they still won by 22 points.
The latest victory equalled the 13-match unbeaten record of the 2002 Crusaders - who featured current coach Scott Robertson.
"We wanted to come away with a performance we were proud of and we wanted to play quick and fast rugby, and we did that," Robertson said.
"We probably didn't always execute when we could have and left a lot tries out there but that was pleasing all the same."
Highlanders head coach Tony Brown knows that his team will have to be at their very best if they are to dent the Crusaders' hopes of a top spot finish.
"Massive," Brown called it when he spoke to nzherald.co.nz. "It's why you play the game.
"To go and play the Crusaders in Christchurch in front of a full stadium, where both teams are going to go hell for leather and throw the ball around and be really physical, it's going to be an intense match.
"There's no better way to finish before the [international] break."
Sources: AFP & nzherald.co.nz