The Roar
The Roar


Crusaders put on wet-weather masterclass
 to shut out Highlanders

The Crusaders are on fire. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Roar Guru
22nd July, 2017

It was plenty of mud and guts but all the glory belonged to the Crusaders, winning 17-0 against the Highlanders in a quagmire quarter-final in Christchurch last night.

The tempest that has swept up the South Island almost threatened to ground the southern men in a flooded Dunedin. After their initial Friday flights were cancelled, they were not finally cleared for take off until midday yesterday, seven and a half hours from kick off, no doubt to the immense relief of broadcasters, sponsors and SANZAAR.

The Highlanders must have wondered if they’d actually flown in a loop back home such was the deluge they encountered when landing at Christchurch’s Harewood airport at 1.30pm.

A state of emergency had that morning been declared in Canterbury to replicate the one called in Southland and Otago the previous day as the north-bound storm dumped massive amounts of moisture on all areas.

Including the AMI Stadium pitch, which logged under 7cm of water.

The visitors looked to have immediately mastered the conditions with a clever grubber to kick the game off that was reclaimed by hooker Liam Coltman sliding down on the ball in the slush.

But that proved to be about the extent of their wet-weather nous as the Crusaders proceeded to lay on a clinic of how to control a game in atrocious conditions.


(AP Photo/Mark Baker)


The Highlanders’ cause was not helped when blindside Liam Squire was sent for ten in the fifth minute for a swinging arm high-shot on Richie Mo’unga. The home pivot shook it off to slot the penalty from a handy position, which proved the only scoreboard cost from Squire’s absence.

In the 18th minute Mo’unga had another chance to put his team ahead following a brain snap obstruction from loosehead prop Dan Lienert-Brown, but had trouble with his plant foot in the swamp for a bad miss.

The seven-man Highlanders scrum held admirably but there’s always an energy-sapping cost when achieving parity with less bodies. In this instance the price wasn’t extracted by the Crusaders until the 30th minute when they marched their opposites back from where they came in a monster scrum.

The penalty that ensued was sent to touch for an attacking lineout.

Fifteen phases later and Kieran Read was over for the game’s first try. Mo’unga added the extras to extend the Crusaders’ lead to 10-0.

The home team continued to dominate possession and territory and forced the Highlanders into triple the number of tackles they were asked to make.

Inexplicably, the southerners kicked the ball away on the rare occasions they made forays into Crusaders’ territory.

Read and Sam Whitelock also picked off a couple of lineouts from promising positions for the Highlanders.


Three minutes before the break, a maul from a Crusaders lineout steamed like a runaway freight train to crashing over the Highlanders’ line.

Referee Angus Gardiner had no hesitation awarding the try only for his assistant Ben O’Keeffe to controversially reverse the decision for a non-grounding.

However, the red and blacks were not to be denied. From the resulting five-metre scrum they were happy to rumble it up in the slosh for a few phases for hooker Codie Taylor to eventually crash over. Conversion good, Crusaders up 17-0 at half time.

Points were of such a premium that a dry-track equivalent to that score was probably around 50-0.

The stats after 40 minutes told the story. The Crusaders dominated 80 per cent of territory, 73 per cent possession, made only 28 tackles to the Highlander 76 and a whopping 12mins 38secs in the opposition 22, 1,200 per cent more than the Highlanders spent at the other end of the paddock.

To the Highlanders credit they showed typical grit and application to reduce the Crusaders domination slightly in the second half.

Their southern spirit no better exemplified than when lock Tom Franklin somehow got his big body between the ball and his try line when Mo’unga had looked to score after a 20-phase build up in the 49th minute.

Unfortunately though, the damage had been done. As the rain continued to bucket down and swirl in the biting wind, the mud bath was no place to play catch up. The one crucial stat that did not change was the 17-0 scoreline.


For the home side Bryn Hall gave a wet-weather halfback masterclass to outpoint his more illustrious opposite while Jack Goodhue showed why he has Steve Hansen and co so interested, and David Havili enjoyed his return to 15. 

Sam Whitelock Crusaders Super Rugby Rugby Union 2016

(AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

But it was the Crusader forwards who really stood up when it counted. None more so than Jordan Tafua, the only uncapped All Black among them, who had some immense carries. Lineout money man Scott Barrett was all grunt and purpose, and with a dinky little chip kick, showed that he’s up there with his brothers in the sheer talent stakes.

For the Highlanders Luke Whitelock got some solace in a losing cause by cutting in half any Crusader that came near him with the ball and replacement flanker Gareth Evans had his moments with the ball near the end. But this was just not the night for the merchants of all out attack a world away from their warm, cosy and dry home under the roof.

Still, it was a sad way for Toulon-bound Malakai Fekitoa to go out.

Crusaders skipper Sam Whitelock said all that really needed to be said in his post-match interview.

“The weather was great for us. We really embraced it.”


Damn right you did. Rain, hail or shine, the Crusade marches on.