Crusaders singing in the rain
SUPER RUGBY MATCH REPORT: The Crusaders marched into the semifinals with an emphatic 17-0 win over the Highlanders in a very wet Christchurch on Saturday.
he result keeps alive the Crusaders' dream of adding to their record seven Super Rugby titles, their most recent success coming in 2008.
After topping the New Zealand conference with just one defeat in the regular season, they will meet either the Stormers or Chiefs in Christchurch next week.
As a result of the atrocious weather - which affected both teams during the match - the Highlanders only arrived in Christchurch a few hours before the match - after flooding and wild weather delayed their flight from Dunedin.
In fact there were fears the Highlanders might not arrive in time for the scheduled kick-off, but they made it.
However, they were not able to cope with the conditions.
It is the third time this season they have lost to the Crusaders in Super Rugby. Add in a pre-season loss to the same opposition and it is clear the Highlanders have no answer the Crusaders' efficiency.
The Crusaders scored two tries yo nil in the in the driving rain, making the most of the heavy weather as their South Island rivals' game plan dissolved in the wet.
Crusaders had more than 70 percent of the ball in the first half, forcing the Highlanders into conceding a number of penalties under pressure inside their own half.
And the home team was also far more astute with their tactics and ruthless in their execution, making ground by taking the ball through multiple phases or kicking very well.
In contrast the Highlanders attempted to run the ball and kicked poorly. Their execution and discipline also let them down.
"It wouldn't have been the prettiest to watch, but both sides just got out there and got on with it," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said.
"The weather was great for us, we really embraced it and knew if we were clean on the penalty count we'd give ourselves a great opportunity."
The Crusaders went into the match heavy favourites, with a starting line-up boasting 11 All Blacks, including the national team's front row.
The Highlanders' star-studded back line proved ineffective in the atrocious conditions as the Crusaders maintained their composure.
It was also the first time this year the Highlanders have been held scoreless.
A slippery ball meant both sides committed handling errors but the Highlanders also struggled with poor discipline, conceding a rash of early penalties.
They suffered a major blow in the first five minutes when flank Liam Squire was sin-binned for a high tackle on Richie Mo'unga.
The Crusaders' pack dominated with a one-man advantage and almost set up two tries, only for the attacks to fail through knock-ons.
The Highlanders defended desperately when the home team launched a driving maul, stopping the Crusaders from crossing the line while Squire was in the bin.
A Mo'unga penalty was all that separated the teams after the first 20 minutes, with the Crusaders on top at the set piece but unable to breach the tryline.
The breakthrough came through sheer graft as the Crusaders worked the ball through 15 phases before Joe Moody bulldozed through a tangle of defenders for the opening try.
The pressure exerted by the Crusaders' scrum paid off just before the break when they Codie Taylor scored a pushover try to make it 17-0 at half-time.
The Crusaders had the best chances in a scoreless second half, coming close to the tryline twice only to be denied by mistakes and solid defence.
Man of the match: Not many Highlanders to consider - not because they didn't try, they were just not good enough. Tactically the Crusaders halfback combination - flyhalf Richie Mo'unga and scrumhalf Bryn Hall - were far superior to their Highlanders counterparts. The Crusaders pack as a united also outplayed their rivals. Our award goes to Crusaders No.8 Kieran Read, who showed his class by playing a much tighter game than we have become accustomed to and doing it with aplomb.
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Read, Taylor
Cons: Mo'unga 2
For the Highlanders:
Yellow card: Liam Squire (Highlanders, 5 - foul play, high tackle)
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 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 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Richard Buckman, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Alex Ainley, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Elliot Dixon, 22 Kayne Hammington, 23 Marty Banks.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)