O'Gara's Crusaders power past Highlanders

O'Gara's Crusaders power past Highlanders
Picture: Inpho

Crusaders 38 - 14 Highlanders

Ronan O'Gara's Crusaders powered past NZ rivals the Highlanders 38-14 Friday to storm into the Super Rugby semi-finals and continue their drive to a third consecutive title.

The nine-time champions launched a second-half onslaught, keeping the Highlanders scoreless after the break as they maintained a daunting home record in Christchurch.

Their win sets up a possible semi-final clash in Christchurch next week against the Hurricanes, who meet the Bulls Saturday in a quarter final tie.

The Crusaders have not lost a playoff in Christchurch since Super Rugby launched in 1996 – a sequence of 22 matches – and are currently on a 28-game unbeaten run at home dating back to July 2016.

They had all their big guns back for Friday's win, with 13 All Blacks in their starting XV and a combined total of 520 Test caps.

They led 17-14 lead at half-time, but a strong driving maul in the second half delivered two tries.

Ahead of the fixture, Highlanders coach Aaron Maugher bristled at suggestions they were lucky to have secured the final playoff spot, saying they were itching to “have a crack” at their highly fancied neighbours.

He was as good as his word as the Highlanders dominated the first 20 minutes but failed to make the most of their opportunities.

Their pressure paid off when Tom Franklin stole a Crusaders lineout, setting up Sio Tomkinson for the game's opening try.

Fullback David Havili responded for the hosts after they patiently gained territory with a lineout drive.

The Crusaders backline then turned on a dazzling display of passing prowess, working the ball through six pairs of hands with lightning speed for a Richie Mo'unga try.

Teihorangi Walden kept the Highlanders in touch when he sidestepped Jack Goodhue for a try that cut the Crusaders' lead to 17-14 at half-time.

The visitors suffered a setback soon after the restart when flanker Liam Squire was sin-binned for a shoulder charge on Whetu Douglas.

The Crusaders capitalised on the one-man advantage with two tries during Squire's absence, one from a driving maul and the other off the back of a scrum.

Mo'unga's second try put the result beyond doubt with 11 minutes to go.

CRUSADERS: Havili, Reece, Goodhue, Crotty, Bridge, Mo'unga, Hall; (8-1) Read, Todd, Douglas, Whitelock (capt), Barrett, Franks, Taylor, Moody.

Reps: Makalio, Bower, Alaalatoa, Romano, Taufua, Drummond, Hunt, Ennor

HIGHLANDERS: Smith, Naholo, Thompson, Walden, Tomkinson, Ioane, Smith, Whitelock, Lentjes, Squire, Franklin, Hemopo, Lomax, Coltman, Lienert-Brown.

Reps: Dixon, Johnstone, Tokolahi, Dickson, Hunt, Hammington, Banks, Dixon

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