ZB

Crusaders cling on for disjointed victory

Author
Christopher Reive, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 2 Apr 2022, 1:59pm
Leicester Fainga'anuku of the Crusaders celebrates his try with Richie Mo'unga. (Photo / Photosport)
Leicester Fainga'anuku of the Crusaders celebrates his try with Richie Mo'unga. (Photo / Photosport)

Crusaders cling on for disjointed victory

Author
Christopher Reive, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sat, 2 Apr 2022, 1:59pm

Crusaders 17 
Higlanders 14 

It doesn't matter how the result comes, just as long as it does. 

For the Crusaders, their 17-14 win over the Highlanders in Christchurch on Friday night fit that notion perfectly. 

In a match both teams had opportunities to win, it was the Crusaders who were able to leave with the points after a competitive and entertaining first half was followed by an error-riddled and disjointed second half. 

It was a fast start for the winless Highlanders, who opened the scoring through hooker Andrew Makalio. A well-worked move from a close-range lineout, the ball went short to Shannon Frizell, who gave it quickly back to a charging Makalio, who muscled through Richie Mo'unga to get the ball down. 

The Crusaders hit back within five minutes in a strange sequence. Playing under penalty advantage, second five-eighth David Havili put in a speculative chip and chase inside the Highlanders 10m. He regathered it – albeit with a hint of a knock-on which was later cleared – and a charging Fletcher Newell was put through the line to score in the next phase. 

The Highlanders took the lead back through Scott Gregory, who was put through untouched by a lovely delay pass from Mitch Hunt, but a penalty and a Leicester Fainga'anuku try gave the Crusaders a slim lead at the break. 

There was plenty to play for in the second half, but the 40 minutes that followed were strange. The frantic movement on the field gave the illusion that there was plenty happening, but the reality was that while there was a bit going on, none of it was pretty. 

Neither team were able to do anything positive with possession for the majority of the second half. Penalties and loose play saw possession change hands constantly, with the play drifting around the middle of the park; the sides trading possession but neither applying pressure. 

The game desperately needed someone, or something, to breathe some life back into it. The opportunities were there, but the execution wasn't. Mitch Hunt's attempted kick to touch deep inside the Crusaders territory that sailed dead in goal and resulted in a Crusaders scrum was a perfect summation of the half. 

After 33 minutes of mediocrity, it was the Highlanders who brought some excitement back into the game. Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, a standout performer, snatched the ball as the Crusaders tried to set up a lineout drive, before Frizell beat a couple of defenders and found himself in open space, but the opportunity soon fizzled out. 

It was a similar story moments later when Folau Fakatava broke the line, but had no support so turned the ball over at the breakdown. 

The Crusaders were down to 14 men for the final three minutes when Shilo Klein was red carded for a shoulder charge on Highlanders' prop Ethan de Groot, but saw out the final minutes to take the win. 

Crusaders 17 (Fletcher Newell, Leicester Fainga'anuku tries; Richie Mo'unga 2 cons, pen) 
Highlanders 14 (Andrew Makalio, Scott Gregory tries; Mitchell Hunt 2 cons) 
HT: 17-14