Highlanders beat semifinal-bound Crusaders

The Otago Highlanders gave hope to prospective play-off opponents of the Canterbury Crusaders when they beat the league leaders 26-14 in Super 14 rugby on Saturday.

The 12th-place Highlanders scored three tries to one in a late-season upset to finish a mediocre year on a high note, with their first win over the Crusaders since 2001.

The Crusaders entered the match with a home semifinal already assured, 12 points clear at the top of the table and with wins from 11 of their 12 previous matches. Still there was concern for the Crusaders in the manner of their defeat on the eve of the semifinals.

Canterbury are not deriving the same wattage from their star power that they have in previous years. All Blacks captain Richie McCaw and flyhalf Daniel Carter are jointly passing through a sustained form slump and, without their solidity and inspiration, Canterbury are a more vulnerable team.

Carter’s cross-field kick led to the Highlanders’ first try by fullback Paul Williams in the seventh minute.
Tries followed to halfback Toby Morland and flanker Adam Thomson as the Highlanders took a 23-14 lead by half-time, then closed out the match with a penalty that provided the only points of the second half.

“We watched the [Queensland] Reds game last week and learned from what they did to them, put pressure on the tight five,” Otago captain Craig Newby said. “That put their loose forwards under pressure and put them on the back foot. We tried to disrupt them and really hook into them and I guess it paid off.”

McCaw admitted his team needed to lift their standards.

“We thought we had a good wake-up call last week, but a good Highlanders side put us under pressure and we made mistakes,” he said. “We got a bit frantic. We have got next week to look forward to and we’re going to have to be a whole lot better if we’re going to be competitive.”—Sapa-AP

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