Crusaders put Highlanders to the sword
The Crusaders demolished New Zealand rivals the Highlanders 51-18 on Friday to sound an ominous warning that the seven-time Super Rugby champions are back to their best.
The Crusaders ran in seven tries to two as they subjected the Highlanders to wave after wave of relentless attack and gave their playoff hopes a massive boost in front of a sell-out Christchurch crowd.
Winger Zac Guildford bagged a brace, while skipper Richie McCaw was also among the try-scorers in a bonus-point win that narrows the gap on competition leaders the Chiefs to two points.
Star five-eighth Dan Carter, back in his favoured position after a stint at inside centre, was also on song with the boot, kicking five conversions and two penalties.
“This was a very important game for us against the Highlanders, who were just behind us on the table, so it was a just win and I’m really proud of the boys tonight,” he said.
The loss leaves the Highlanders seven points adrift of the Crusaders and third in the New Zealand conference, with the Hurricanes a chance to overtake them if they manage a bonus-point win over NSW on Saturday.
Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh said last year’s losing finalists appeared to be hitting form at the right time.
“They know how to turn it on at the right part of the season and tonight they were bloody classy, they were just too good,” he said.
The Crusaders came out firing from the outset, flanker George Whitelock scoring a try after less than three minutes as the home team’s forwards established early dominance.
Carter nailed the conversion and scored a penalty five minutes later to make it 10-0.
The Highlanders kept in touch with two penalties to Chris Noakes, the second of which resulted in Whitelock being sinbinned for playing the ball on the ground.
Outside centre Tamati Ellison made the most of the numerical advantage, breaking the Crusaders’ line and eluding two defenders to score the Highlanders’ first five-pointer.
But Guildford made the Highlanders pay when James Haskell was sinbinned, bursting through the line and sprinting 55 metres for his first try then regathering a Carter chip kick chip for his second minutes later.
The Crusaders scored another try which originated deep within their own half, centre Robbie Fruean brushing off a tackler and passing to halfback Andy Ellis, who kept the ball alive in the tackle for Ryan Crotty to score between the posts.
With a bonus point secured before halftime, the onslaught continued after the break as the Crusaders continued to run the ball and a diving McCaw just managed to force down an Ellis chip into the corner.
Coach Jamie Joseph made a host of changes from the bench in an effort to keep the Highlanders’ season on track but his team could not find a way back into the game.© AAP 2013
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