In front of over 17,500 fans in Christchurch it took 63 minutes for the Crusaders to hit the lead, with the Highlanders dominating the first hour.
It took just over a minute for the Highlanders to strike, through in-form flanker Shannon Frizell. The Crusaders then hit back, a brilliant try to Richie Mo’unga, who had another sublime performance.
Jona Nareki had a great foot race with his opposite, Sevu Reece, taking an intercept to run 80 metres to score in the left corner and give the Highlanders a 17-13 lead at the break.
Josh McKay made one of the plays of the year with an incredible try saving tackle on Bryn Hall who just had to fall over the line. Michael Collins scored for the Highlanders in the 53rd minute, but from there on it was all the home side. Showing their class in the final 20 minutes, as they have done all season.
George Bridge bagged a double and Braydon Ennor scored the match winner to seal the victory, with still one more week of the competition to go. The Crusaders were awarded the Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa trophy in front of their home fans, and also performed their haka, Takina Te Kawa.
The Crusaders head up north to face the Blues, who were hoping to be hosting a ‘final’ at Eden Park on Sunday afternoon, while the Highlanders host the Hurricanes in their final game of the year on Saturday night in Dunedin.
Scorers: Crusaders 32 (Richie Mo’unga, George Bridge 2, Braydon Ennor tries; Mo’unga 2 pens, 3 cons) Highlanders 22 (Shannon Frizell, Jona Nareki, Michael Collins tries; Josh Ioane 1 pen, 2 cons)
HT: 13-17 Highlanders