Crusaders ride to head of New Zealand pack

A ruthless Canterbury Crusaders juggernaut stormed to the front of the New Zealand Super 15 pack when they swept aside the Otago Highlanders 44-13 at Carisbrook on Saturday.

The local derby involving the closest of neighbours and fiercest of rivals highlighted the gulf between New Zealand’s top two teams as the Crusaders scored six tries to one.

The win lifted them to the top of the New Zealand conference, four points clear of the Highlanders, who suffered their second consecutive defeat after opening the season with a three-match winning streak.

In the crucial area up front, where the Highlanders had dominated all before them so far this season, they were found wanting by the Crusaders’ All Blacks-laden pack, who cashed in on turnover ball.

The Highlanders had their opportunities but found the Crusaders defence impregnable, which in turned forced them into a lot of lateral running with little to show for the effort.

It was tough night with the boot for the Highlanders. Fly-half Tony Brown missed three of five attempts at goal and replacement Robbie Robinson missed one from two while the Crusaders kickers Dan Carter and Matt Berquist landed six from 10.

In a tense first half the Crusaders scored first in the ninth minute when they turned down an easy penalty shot at goal and ran the ball with Robbie Fruean diving over wide out.

The Highlanders replied with two Brown penalties and had the chance to put pressure on the Crusaders in the countdown to halftime when Sam Whitelock was yellow-carded but it was the visitors who came out on top in the 10-minute mismatch.

With a player down they added six points from two Carter penalties to turn with a slender 13-6 advantage before the floodgates opened.

“We got the message at halftime and the boys showed a lot of character and great skill in the second half,” said skipper Kieran Read.

“As soon as we put our mind to it and tried to play footie it turned out well for us.”

After the tough words at the interval from coach Todd Blackadder, Read stretched the margin soon after the restart with a 50m run to the line.

Fullback Israel Dagg entered the backline to score twice, once off a trademark offload from Sonny Bill Williams who also put prop Wyatt Crockett in for a try.

Replacement halfback Kahn Fotuali’i scored a try when the Crusaders pack demolished a Highlanders five-metre scrum to have his side up 44-6 before Adam Thomson scored a consolation try on fulltime, converted by Robinson.

The Crusaders, left homeless because of damage to AMI Stadium in the devastating Christchurch earthquake, now head to London to play their sixth round match against the Coastal Sharks while the Highlanders have a bye. – AFP

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