Vodacom Super Rugby
Highlanders upset Crusaders
Tony Brown (Gallo Images)
Nelson - The Otago Highlanders punished the Canterbury Crusaders for taking them too lightly, pulling off an upset 26-18 victory in their Super 15 clash in Nelson Saturday.
The no-frills Highlanders, who were written off at the start of the season after years as New Zealand's worst-performing team, have proved instead to be giantkillers and notched their seventh win from nine games.
They also denied the Crusaders a bonus point to push the Canterbury franchise down to second in the New Zealand conference behind the Auckland Blues.
Taking inspiration from the Waikato Chiefs' performance in their close-run match against the Crusaders last week, the Highlanders played at pace to prevent their opponents settling and on defence they tackled ferociously.
When the two sides last met in the fifth round a bold second half gave the Crusaders a 44-13 win after they led 13-6 at half-time, but there was to be no repeat on this occasion.
The Highlanders were ahead 15-13 at the half and never surrendered the lead as the Crusaders threw everything at them in the second period but could make no progress.
Going into the game as the competition leaders, the Crusaders gave many of their regular substitutes a start and then suffered when early injuries cost them Brad Thorn and Andy Ellis, the captain for the day in the absence of Richie McCaw and Kieran Read.
But senior lock Chris Jack, who took over as captain, said they could not blame the new combinations for the woeful performance.
"We didn't perform very well but at the same time we were probably beaten by the better team on the day," he said, while Highlanders captain Jamie MacIntosh paid tribute to the rock-solid defensive display produced by his young side.
"It wasn't pretty but we're proud of our defence," he said, adding the weather also played into their hands.
"Had it been a dry night and they had executed better we would have been under pressure. As it turned out it was a wet night and we put enough pressure on them to make mistakes."
After an early exchange of penalties between Matt Berquist and Tony Brown, the Crusaders scored the first try when Israel Dagg entered the backline from a scrum on their own 22 and put Zac Guildford in the clear.
But the Highlanders were not prepared to roll over and a break by former Crusader backrower Nasi Manu resulted in a try for left wing Siale Piutau.
While the Crusaders were unable to cross the line again in the first half, and had to rely on a drop goal by Berquist, the Highlanders followed up with a try by James Paterson, who stepped around Dagg with ease.
Paterson scored again at the start of the second half, after Berquist's kick off went out on the full and from the resulting scrum fly-half Brown kicked across to the unmarked wing.
With the Crusaders trailing 13-20 and not making any headway, coach Todd Blackadder turned to the bench and injected an All Blacks trio of Corey Flynn, Ben Franks and Sonny Bill Williams as well as leading try scorer Sean Maitland.
The arrival of fresh legs saw them score almost immediately when Adam Whitelock pounced on a loose Highlanders pass inside his own half and outsprinted the defence.
But almost as quickly they gifted the Highlanders two handy penalties in front of the posts, which Brown duly converted to extend the margin to eight points and deny the Crusaders a bonus point.Scorers
Tries: Guildford, Whitelock
Drop goals: BerquistHighlanders:
Tries: Piutau, Paterson (2)
Conversions: Brown (1)
Penalties: Brown (3)Teams:
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Adam Whitelock, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Matt Berquist, 9 Andy Ellis (captain), 8 Joe Wheeler, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Kahn Fotuali'i, 21 Sonny Bill Williams, 22 Sean Maitland Highlanders:
15 Robbie Robinson, 14 James Paterson, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Ben Smith, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Tony Brown, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Chris King, 2 Mo Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (captain)
Substitutes: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 David Te Moana, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Sean Romans, 21 Matt Saunders, 22 Telusa Veainu Referee:
Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)Assistant referees:
Vinny Munro (New Zealand), James McPhail (New Zealand)TMO:
Mike Fraser (New Zealand)