Match Centre: Crusaders 12-33 Highlanders

Crusaders have suffered their first defeat this season
Crusaders have suffered their first defeat this season

Crusaders 12-33 Highlanders, Orangetheory Stadium

Highlanders have ended a two-game losing streak as they handed Crusaders their first defeat in the ongoing Super Rugby Aotearoa season at Orangetheory Stadium on Friday.

Despite the defeat, Crusaders hold the top place in the table with 18 points while Highlanders are at third place after second win from five matches that has taken their tally to nine.

This was also the first win for Highlanders over Crusaders since 2018 and it came despite them dropping six players including All Black Josh Ioane after they breached the team "code". Sione Misiloi, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Teariki Ben-Nicholas and Patelesio Tomkinson were the others to miss out on the encounter.

The opening minute saw TMO employed straightaway as Garden-Bachop goes down heavily in an aerial contest with Will Jordan with the Crusaders fullback escaping sanctions. Both the teams conceded two penalties apiece early for infringements with the first points in the game coming in the 14th minute when Mitch Hunt slotted a three-pointer from a 35m to make it 0-3.

The visitors doubled their tally in the 20th minute with Hunt slotting another penalty kick after Codie Taylor advanced in front of the kicker. Highlanders looked in total domination as Billy Harmon dived over in the 25th minute after Hunt looked good in the build up and he also followed with the conversion making it 13-0.

Hunt missed a kick in the 30th minute but made amends with another penalty kick in the 35th minute as Highlanders scored 16 unanswered points and as the break was approaching, Crusaders finally opened their tally when they counterattacked resulting in a try for Codie Taylor and Richie Mo'unga improved it as the opening half ended with a 7-16 scoreline.

Hunt continued his impressive form as he extended Highlanders' lead to 12 points with his fourth penalty kick in the 52nd minute and Michael Collins took the game further away from Crusaders when he dotted down in the 58th minute making the scoreline 7-26.

Crusaders made a brief comeback with centre David Havili touching down in the 70th minute but Garden-Bachop went over with four minutes left to ensure Highlanders pulled out an incredible win at the Orangetheory Stadium.

Team line-up:

Crusaders: Will Jordan, George Bridge, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Richie Mo’unga, Mitchell Drummond, Cullen Grace, Sione Havili Talitui, Ethan Blackadder, Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.

Reserves: Brodie McAlister, George Bower, Oliver Jager, Mitchell Dunshea, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Bryn Hall, Fergus Burke, Sevu Reece.

Highlanders: Connor Garden-Bachop, Scott Gregory, Michael Collins, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Folau Fakatava, Kazuki Himeno, Billy Harmon, Shannon Frizell, Pari Pari Parkinson, Bryn Evans, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon, Ethan de Groot.

Reserves: Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone, Josh Hohneck, Josh Dickson, Hugh Renton, Aaron Smith, Caleb Makene, James Lentjes