Crusaders bounced back after last weeks defeat to Sharks with a 30-32 victory over Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. Second-half tries from Tim Perry, Nepo Laulala and Nemani Nadolo saw them overturn a 12-10 half-time deficit after a first half which saw Richie McCaw sin-binned and Saders unable to make 62% territory dominance count.
The Highlanders fought back and saw Patrick Osbourne touch down in the corner but the TMO ruled it was no try stating he touched the touchline and try-line simultaneously and Crusaders escaped.
A rip-roaring opening 7 minutes saw Colin Slade hook a penalty left and wide while Johnny McNicholl knocked on and his forward pass twice saw try chances wasted. First he knocked on five metres from the Highlanders try-line after Ryan Crotty's pass and was quickly followed by a forward pass as he sent Nadolo in for the try in the corner.
A poor restart by the Highlanders gave the Saders the attacking platform which led to Andy Ellis feeding Jordan Taufua who drove over on 12 minutes. Slade converted for a 0-7 lead before Highlanders finally got inside the opposition half on the quarter-hour. With Richie McCaw penalised for going off his feet but Lim Sopoaga dragged his effort wide.
Richie McCaw was sin-binned just after the first quarter for infringing at the breakdown and the Highlanders took advantage of the extra man. After patient build-up play Aaron Smith fed Shaun Treeby and then Sopoaga who were both held short before Ged Robinson barged over as Sopoaga missed the conversion.
The man advantage continued and Patrick Osbourne brushed tackles from Israel Dagg and Tom Taylor aside to dance his way in for a try on the left touchline. Sopoaga split the posts for a 12-7 lead just before the half hour. It could have been even better had Malakai Fekitoa been able to hold onto the ball as they counter-attacked but the centre lost the ball forward. Second-row forward Jarrad Wheeler seemed to be unfairly penalised at the breakdown, but Slade made no mistake to narrow the margin at half-time to 12-10.
With the second-half just three minutes old, Crusaders were back in front. Nemani Nadolo made the initial break, evading two tacklers before Tim Perry touched down, but Slade's conversion was wayward.
A Sopoaga penalty leveled the game at 15-15 on 49 minutes, but the lead didn't last long. Crusaders got possession from the restart and after Ryan Crotty's break, Nadolo edged closer before front row Nepo Laulala touched down. Slade converted for a 15-22 lead as Owen Franks, Wyatt Crockett and Corey Flynn saw Crusaders replace their entire front row.
Hayden Parker replaced Sopoaga and split the posts to narrow the margin to four with 20 minutes remaining, but there was no stopping the class of Nadolo. Israel Dagg drew the last tackler before a looping pass saw Nadolo touch down. The winger made 152 metres with 12 runs and three line breaks and Slade's conversion saw Saders stretch their lead to 11 points, 18-29, but Highlanders weren't done yet.
Fekitoa saw the home side inch back with a try with 10 minutes remaining, but Parker hit the upright with the conversion. Slade pushed the lead out to nine with a penalty after McCaw turned Richard Buckman over; 23-32 to Crusaders.
Ben Smith touched down in the corner and Parker converted to set up a grandstand finish as Crusaders dropped deeper and invited the Highlanders onto them. Patient build-up play brought the home side inside the Saders 22, but they spread the ball wide rather than attempting a drop goal.
As the time ticked over the 80 Parker threw the ball wide for Osbourne who dove for the corner. Israel Dagg made a last-ditched effort pushing Osbourne towards the touchline. After reviewing the incident the TMO decided Osbourne had touch the touch-line and try-line at same time, giving Crusaders victory.
15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osbourne, 10 Lim Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith.
1 Kane Hanes, 2 Ged Robinson, 3 Chris King, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Joe Wheeler, 6 Elliot Dixon, 7 Shane Christie, 8 Nasi Manu (c).
16. Sam Anderson-Heather, 17. Matia Diaz, 18. Ma’afu Fia, 19. Tom Franklin, 20. Gareth Evans, 21. Fumiaki Tanaka, 22. Hayden Parker, 23. Phil Burleigh.
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Tom Taylor, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis.
1 Tim Perry, 2 Ben Funnell, 3 Nepo Laulala, 4 Dominic Bird, 5 Sam Whitelock, 6 Jordan Taufua, 7. Richie McCaw, 8 Luke Whitelock.
16. Corey Flynn, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Owen Franks, 19. Jimmy Tupou, 20. George Whitelock, 21. Willi Heinz, 22. Adam Whitelock, 23. Nafi Tuitavake.