'Saders bounce back in Otago
Dunedin - The Crusaders have defeated the Highlanders 26-20 in their South Island derby on Saturday to bounce back from a shock opening-round loss.
Still stinging from an upset last week at the hands of the Rebels, the Crusaders showed glimpses of the form that got them to the final last year.
However, the seven-time champions needed to snuff out a late surge from the Highlanders in a high-intensity game featuring two tries from each side.
"It was a true southern derby, both teams chucked plenty at it and we were happy to come away with it in the end," Crusaders captain Matt Todd said.
"In the second half we got down their end but didn't capitalise as much as we should. We knew the Highlanders would come back and they certainly did. Credit to our boys who dug deep."
The Crusaders five changes to the side delivered an insipid performance against the Rebels last week, including replacing the injured Dan Carter with Colin Slade.
The game began at a furious pace and the Crusaders were soon ahead thanks to a Slade penalty.
The Highlanders hit back through Aaron Smith, who sold Richie McCaw a dummy pass after bursting from the breakdown then dived through the resulting gap for a try.
The Crusaders responded by laying siege to the Highlanders' try-line. McCaw thought he was over but was ruled held up before lock Scott Barrett finally found a way through.
Winger Johnny McNicholl scored a second five-pointer on the stroke of half time to put the Crusaders firmly in control 20-7 at the break.
They looked to be holding on comfortably until livewire centre Malakai Fekitoa cut through their defence with 20 minutes to go, sparking hopes of a Highlanders' revival.
The Crusaders defence proved up to the challenge but the Highlanders at least managed to score a late penalty that narrowed the margin enough to earn them a bonus point.
Highlanders: 20 - Tries: Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa; Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (2); Penalties: Sopoaga (2)
Crusaders: 26 - Tries: Scott Barrett, Johnny McNicholl; Conversions: Slade (2); Penalties: Slade (4)
15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 John Hardie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Josh Hohneck
Substitutes: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Jason Emery, 23 Marty Banks
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Robbie Fruean, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Nafi Tuitavake