February 13, 2010
Crusaders 32 Highlanders 17
The Canterbury Crusaders launched their Super 14 campaign with a trademark storming finish to secure a bonus point 32-17 win over the Otago Highlanders in Christchurch on Saturday.
Highlanders replacement flyhalf Michael Hobbs had single-handedly lifted his side to within one point of the Crusaders with 12 minutes to play before the red-and-blacks burst clear with two late tries.
The most successful franchise in Super rugby history, who are searching for an eighth title, had produced a withering start to the game to be up 10-0 inside the first quarter.
But once the Highlanders had absorbed the opening onslaught they began to dictate terms, and an upset seemed possible when they trailed just 17-18 before being shut out of the game.
"They came back really tough and we had to dig really deep to get the bonus point at the end," a relieved Crusaders captain Kieran Read said.
"There's a lot to work on. We could have held on to that ball a lot more in the first-half, created a bit more patience and there might have been more of a reward at the end."
After being upset by their neighbours in the past two seasons in the South Island derby, the Crusaders started with a roar, keeping the Highlanders pinned deep in their own territory in the first 20 minutes.
But constant backline forays brought no reward and the first try came when they kept the ball in close letting the forwards build the pressure before scrum-half Andy Ellis dived over.
Dan Carter converted to add to an earlier penalty and the Crusaders were 10-0 up.
They extended the lead to 15-0 early in the second half when a wayward Robbie Fruean pass bounced off the knee of Jared Payne, who was able to toe the ball over the line to score.
But the next 20 minutes belonged to Hobbs as he scored two tries for the Highlanders -- the first when he broke through a Carter tackle and the second when he finished off a storming run by promising lock Josh Bekhuis.
Hobbs also added two conversions and a penalty to the Crusaders' offering of another Carter penalty, and the Cantabrians' lead looked tenuous at 18-17.
But as has happened so often in the past, the Crusaders are able to find another gear in the closing stages of the game when other sides are beginning to tire.
Sean Maitland started the revival when he read a Hobbs clearing kick and started a counterattack which ended with off-season signing Zac Guilford scoring.
With time on the clock Maitland scored himself when he gathered up the loose ball and scampered 20 metres to the line.
CRUSADERS 32 (Andrew Ellis, Zac Guildford, Sean Maitland, Jared Payne tries Daniel Carter 3 cons 2 pens) bt HIGHLANDERS 17 (Michael Hobbs 2 tries 2 cons pen) at AMI Stadium. Referee: Chris Pollock (NZL).