Christchurch - The Crusaders' forwards produced a masterclass to dominate the Highlanders and move back into contention for the playoffs with a 24-8 victory in their Super Rugby clash here on Saturday.
The victory moved the seven-times champions side to 26 points to keep in touch with a group of five other teams contesting three playoffs positions. They had lost their previous two games to the Sharks and Force away.
It was the eighth successive loss for the Highlanders, who are the only team not to have won a game this season.VIDEO: Crusaders v Highlanders, highlights
The Crusaders dominated territory and possession despite having All Black prop Owen Franks sin-binned for fighting early in the game, destroying the Highlanders scrum and stealing lineout ball seemingly at will.
The visitors' defence, however, was outstanding and restricted the Crusaders to three penalties from flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal in the first half before centre Robbie Fruean crashed over in the final minute before the break.
Bleyendaal converted to give the home side a 16-0 lead at the half.
Fired up after the break, the Highlanders were rewarded when Jason Emery scored an early try after sustained buildup and a superb final pass from scrumhalf Aaron Smith that cut across four defenders and put the centre into space out wide.
But the Highlanders' try only seemed to sharpen the Crusaders' focus and they clicked back into action to march downfield and set up Bleyendaal's fourth penalty for a 19-5 lead.
Replacement Highlanders flyhalf Colin Slade slotted a long-range penalty to reduce the deficit but the Crusaders then camped inside the visitors' 22m area before cracking the desperate 'Landers defence when Tom Taylor went over in the corner, wrapping up the win with five minutes remaining.Scorers:
Tries: Robert Fruean, Tom Taylor
Conversion: Tyler Bleyendaal
Penalties: Bleyendaal (4)Highlanders:
Try: Jason Emery
Penalty: Colin SladeTeams:Crusaders:
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (captain), 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Adam WhitelockHighlanders:
15 Ben Smith, 14 Tony Ensor, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 TJ Ioane, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Jamie Mackintosh, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Fumiaka Tanaka, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Jake Paringatai