Any hope of the Highlanders crashing the Crusaders’ 25-years anniversary were quickly extinguished at Orangetheory Stadium on Friday night.
The Crusaders failed to turn a 26-8 halftime lead into a romp, but a 33-13 bonus point win is not to be smirked at, a result which ensured they head into a well-earned bye week with a 3-1 record.
Dispatching their neighbours for a seventh time in eight attempts, and 26th time in 38 matches since 1996, certainly made sure their anniversary wasn’t dampened.
The 50-odd former Crusaders who turned up for the match, and the more than 15,000 fans, would have liked a few more second half points but could not have asked for much more from the red and blacks in the first half.
First half tries to Codie Taylor, Tom Christie, Braydon Ennor and George Bridge set the tone, as the hosts marked their first match in Christchurch since last year’s final against the Jaguares.
Indeed, their now 33-match unbeaten run on home soil is going to take something special to bury.
They even notched their latest scalp with their third and fourth string goal kickers in action, after fullback David Havili tweaked his knee and halfbacks Bryn Hall and Mitchell Drummond slotted conversions.
The Highlanders didn’t do themselves any favours, falling off a staggering 19 tackles in the first 40 minutes alone. When all was said and done, they had missed 32.
If one stood out, it was lock Josh Dickson badly missing centre Ennor, who cruised in from 22 metres to put the hosts 19-8 up after 27 minutes.
Lock Shannon Frizell, perhaps desperate to right some wrongs after the break, got carried away and paid for a reckless clean-out on Ennor, who he tipped in a ruck.
Referee Mike Fraser, after asking for the 45th minute incident to be beamed on the big screen, sent Frizell packing for 10 minutes.
While the Crusaders perhaps slightly improved their execution from the previous two matches, they were still guilty of shelling passes and failing to turn their dominance into more points.
Notably, Bridge should have scored in the 57th minute after captain Havili found running room, only for Bridge to fail to handle a cut-out ball.
It was the Highlanders who scored the first points of the second half, when wing Jona Nareki touched down out wide after they setup camp in the Crusaders’ 22 for what felt like an eternity.
But the Crusaders hit back with a try to loose forward Sione Havili and were never seriously threatened by the visitors, who you felt needed to score a try in the opening few minutes, after midfielder Josh Ioane skipped into a gaping hole.
However, halfback Aaron Smith lost the ball extending over the try line and captain James Lentjes instructed Ioane to kick a penalty.
It didn’t take long for the Crusaders to cook up a try and take the lead through Taylor, who galloped on to a short ball from Bridge and touched down after quarter of an hour.
Five minutes later, second-five eighth Jack Goodhue sucked a couple of would-be tacklers in and put rookie Christie in out wide for his first Super Rugby try.
Collins and Ennor traded five-pointers, before Bridge shrugged off a couple of defenders and put his side 26-8 up on the cusp of the split.
AT A GLANCE:
Crusaders 33 (Codie Taylor, Tom Christie, Braydon Ennor, George Bridge, Sione Havili tries; David Havili con, Bryn Hall 2 con, Mitchell Drummond con) Highlanders 13 (Michael Collins, Jona Nareki tries; Josh Ioane pen). HT: 26-8