Crusaders clinch Super Rugby Aotearoa title with 32-22 win over Highlanders

George Bridge scored two tries for Crusaders
George Bridge scored two tries for Crusaders

Crusaders 32-22 Highlanders, Orangetheory Stadium

Crusaders went on to clinch the Super Rugby Aotearoa title after they went on to defeat Highlanders 32-22 in the ninth round at Orangetheory Stadium on Sunday.

The win has taken Crusaders' tally to 28 points which meant they cannot be overtaken despite a final round game against Blues left while Highlanders are at fourth after suffering their fifth defeat from seven games.

It was Highlanders, who started the game strong after Aaron Smith sent a well-timed pass to Shannon Frizell, who went over the line in the second minute. Josh Ioane kicked the conversion to take them to a seven-point lead.

A combination of Bryn Hall, Sevu Reece and George Bridge led Crusaders' response as Richie Mo'unga scored a converted try in the 13th minute to level the score.

The Highlanders seized back the lead again at the start of the second quarter when Jona Nareki gathered a pass from Sam Whitelock to dot down with Josh Ioane kicking a conversion and a penalty on either side to make the scoreline 7-17 before Mo'unga kicked back to back penalty to reduce the gap down to four points before the break.

After a quite 12 minutes in the second half, Highlanders were the quickest to get off the block when Michael Collins crossed the whitewash and the visitors looked in control with a 13-22 lead.

Nevertheless, the defending champions of Super Rugby did not relent under pressure as they stepped up in the final quarter with Bridge scoring back to back tries in the 61st and 64th minutes making it 25-22 and their momentum was further boosted when Highlanders lost Sio Tomkinson to yellow-card for a tackle off the ball on Oli Jager.

Crusaders sealed the game in the 75th minute when Braydon Ennor scored their final try in the 75th minute and Mo'unga improved it to complete a 10-point victory and more importantly the Super Rugby Aotearoa title.