WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Super Rugby champions the Canterbury Crusaders recovered from a halftime deficit for the second week in a row on Friday to thrash the Otago Highlanders 43-17 and extend their unbeaten run at home to 24 matches.
Ten points down after 12 minutes in Christchurch, the Crusaders ran in six tries to secure a bonus point victory and stretch their lead over the resting Wellington Hurricanes at the top of the New Zealand conference to 11 points.
Starting outside backs Braydon Ennor, David Havili, Sevu Reece all crossed for the Crusaders before replacements Mitchell Drummond and Will Jordan added two more tries late on, the latter with his eighth of the season.
The forwards got into the act when their pressure forced the award of a penalty try from a five-metre scrum in the 52nd minute, one of three tries in 10 minutes after the break that turned the match decisively in their favour.
“We weren’t happy with the first 20 minutes, they came out and put us under pressure and it took us a while to adjust to that,” said Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock.
“The best thing is that we did and managed to come out on top of them. A battle against the neighbours is always a tough one and we missed one a few weeks ago so both teams were pretty excited about this.”
With the opening South Island derby of the season having been cancelled in the wake of the March 15 Christchurch mosque shootings, this was the Highlanders’ first chance to lay out their stall against the nine-times champions.
All Blacks fullback Ben Smith was playing his 150th Super Rugby match and he gave them a flying start when he cut through a gap in the defensive to score in the third minute.
Josh Ioane kicked a penalty nine minutes later but the error-prone visitors were unable to get on scoreboard again until the match was already long lost and the young flyhalf crossed for a consolation in the 74th minute.
“They were pretty clinical in the second half,” said Smith. “We gave them a few opportunities. Against the Crusasders you’ve got to take everything you’ve got. They’re a pretty class act and setting the standards in Super Rugby.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty)