Crusaders embrace the rain and reign

Super Rugby
by AFP

The Crusaders ground out a 17-0 win over the Highlanders in sodden conditions in Christchurch on Saturday to reach the Super Rugby semi-finals. 

The Crusaders scored two tries in the driving rain, making the most of the heavy weather as their South Island rivals' game plan dissolved in the wet.

The Highlanders insisted on kicking the ball to try to find territory, while the Crusaders were content let their dominant pack hold into it and work their way forward.

"It wouldn't have been the prettiest to watch but both sides just got out there and got on with it," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said.

"The weather was great for us, we really embraced it and knew if we were clean on the penalty count we'd give ourselves a great opportunity."

The result keeps alive the Crusaders' dream of adding to their record seven Super Rugby titles, their most recent success coming in 2008. 

After topping the New Zealand conference with just one defeat in the regular season, they will meet either the Western Stormers or Waikato Chiefs in Christchurch next week.

The Crusaders went into the match heavy favourites, with a starting line-up boasting 11 All Blacks, including the national team's front row. 

The Highlanders only arrived in Christchurch a few hours before the match after flooding and wild weather delayed their flight from Dunedin. 

Their star-studded back line proved ineffective in the atrocious conditions as the Crusaders maintained their composure to secure a third win over the Highlanders this season. 

It was also the first time this year the Highlanders have been held scoreless. 

A slippery ball meant both sides committed handling errors but the Highlanders also struggled with poor discipline, conceding a rash of early penalties.

They suffered a major blow in the first five minutes when flanker Liam Squire was sin-binned for a high tackle on Richie Mo'unga. 

The Crusaders' pack dominated with a one-man advantage and almost set up two tries, only for the attacks to fail through knock-ons. 

The Highlanders defended desperately when the home team launched a driving maul, stopping the Crusaders from crossing the line while Squire was in the bin. 

A Mo'unga penalty was all that separated the teams after the first 20 minutes, with the Crusaders on top at the set piece but unable to breach the tryline. 

The breakthrough came through sheer graft as the Crusaders worked the ball through 15 phases before Joe Moody bulldozed through a tangle of defenders for the opening try. 

The pressure exerted by the Crusaders' scrum paid off just before the break when they Codie Taylor scored a pushover try to make it 17-0 at halftime. 

The Crusaders had the best chances in a scoreless second half, coming close to the tryline twice only to be denied by mistakes and solid defence.


Crusaders 17

Tries: Moody, Taylor

Cons: Mo'unga 2

Pens: Mo'unga.

Highlanders 0