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Crusaders make most of weather to advance

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Lynn McConnell     22 Jul 2017     Getty Images

By achieving their 15th win in the season the Crusaders achieved the most wins in a season by any Super Rugby side.

The Highlanders were unable to get to Christchurch due to weather conditions until the afternoon of the game only to be shut out of the contest by a dominant Crusaders unit intent on getting back on a winning note.

Conditions could hardly have been worse with the ground saturated as a result of the heavy rain that had fallen throughout the South Island on the previous two days.

Under the circumstances discipline was crucial, and having been determined to make up from their issues in their loss to the Hurricanes last week, appeared better equipped to stay on the right side of referee Angus Gardiner.

They made the most of the possession they enjoyed which in the first half was 73 percent from 80 percent territory.

The Highlanders lost Liam Squire to the sin-bin in the first 10 minutes after a high charge on Crusaders first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga while their hesitation under Crusaders downfield kicks also proved costly and prevented them clearing their own 22m area as often as they needed.

Issues with their lineout and less than accurate tactical kicking also compounded the Highlanders' woes. 



They did have some let-offs however. Mo'unga missed two kickable penalty goals while flanker Jordan Taufua had a try disallowed from a superb driving maul from a lineout when the ball was to have been held up.

However, the Crusaders wet-weather rugby saw their lineout work pay off in the 32nd minute when from a big Crusaders scrum the ball was moved towards the line and from the pick-and-go prop Joe Moody lunged at the line and while he appeared to be grounded short, the ball was moved over the line and he was credited with the try.

Just on half-time from a five-metre scrum, Read secured the ball but again from the pick-and-go situation hooker Codie Taylor got over for the try. Mo'unga regained his kicking radar late in the half and with two conversions took the Crusaders to a 17-0 lead at halftime.

Enjoying more possession in the second half still wasn't enough for the Highlanders to break the staunch Crusaders defence. It didn't help that when getting into good positions for a lineout 10m out from the line, they found Sam Whitelock contesting, and winning, their ball.

In an ideal environment tailor-made for forwards to shine both packs gave it plenty but the greater defensive demands on the Highlanders meant they were more often on the back foot. Under those conditions No.8 Luke Whitelock's tackling was outstanding.

For the Crusaders, flanker Matt Todd thrived in the close quarter action, yet was able to get in support when the ball was given air. Lock Scott Barrett also demonstrated his growing stature with some fine tackling and deft touches. Taylor made light of the difficult conditions with a peerless display of throwing to the lineout.

Highlanders lock Jackson Hemopo had an outstanding night with some fine running while replacement prop Aki Seiuli was prominent driving the ball up.

Given the slippery ball, both halfbacks Bryn Hall for the home team and Aaron Smith for the Highlanders were impressive in their clearances.

And making the most of what chances came their way were the Crusaders midfield pairing of Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue, not only for their defensive work but for their opportunism with dropped possession among the Highlanders.

It was the end of an era for the Highlanders with coach Tony Brown moving on to Japan and assistant coach Scott McLeod joining the All Blacks while Malakai Fekitoa is off to France and Marty Banks to Italy.

Scorers: Crusaders 17 (Joe Moody, Codie Taylor tries; Richie Mo'unga 2 con, pen) Highlanders 0. HT: 17-0