Sunday, March 04, 2012

Highlanders edge Crusaders in southern derby RICHARD KNOWLER IN DUNEDIN 03/03/2012

At last some good news in the deep south.
Tonight the Highlanders beat the Crusaders 27-24 and it was the try to Hosea Gear in the 68th minute that proved decisive in finally putting smiles back on fans' faces.
In the dying minutes it was almost a comedy - even a farce - as the Highlanders, confused as to how much time remained because the scoreboard clock was wrong, did their best to give the Crusaders a chance to draw the match. And if Crusaders first five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal had not missed a drop goal in front of the sticks it could have ended that way.
Instead the Highlanders held on by outscoring their opponents three tries to two.
Given that emotions are running high in the city, where the Otago union is fighting for survival, there was no lack of emotion leading into the Super match at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
If only the Otago officials had shown the sort of tenacity, commitment and diligence that Highlanders displayed tonight - if they had their proud union might not be in the mire.
Set-piece tries always please coaches and the Crusaders backs boss Daryl Gibson would have allowed himself the luxury of a quick smile when Israel Dagg skipped away for the opening try in the 16th minute.
Quick ball from a lineout win resulted in Bleyendaal swinging a flat pass to centre Robbie Fruean who turned his back and foxed the rushing defence with a dummy pass that put a flying Todd in space. From there it was too easy for Dagg as he swept on to Todd's transfer.
Seconds later, however, Gibson would have been glum. The Highlanders weren't to be intimidated; immediately they struck back and it was hooker Andrew Hore who dashed 16m for the five-pointer.
It too followed a lineout. Runs by second five-eighth Phil Burleigh and No 6 Adam Thomson led to the Highlanders setting-up a ruck inside their opponents' quarter and when Hore looked-up and saw open space he wasted no time in embarrassing the sleepy Crusaders defence.
Hore's try didn't just tie up the score 10-all. It galvanised his side's attack and openside flanker John Hardie made two clean line-breaks in the space of six minutes.
His first bust led to him within metres of the tryline but his rushed pass to Burleigh was spilled.
The second was just as spectacular but the chance was lost when he inexplicably threw a no-look pass back to Todd and the Crusaders were again off the hook.
There was to be no reprieve in the 40th minute, though, when Burleigh, following some earlier good work from fullback Ben Smith, scored down the short side from a ruck.
Following Dagg's try it was as if the Highlanders pledged they would be the ones who dictated play; their gnarly forward pack's momentum, led by the rejuvenated Hore, ensured the Crusaders were always backpedalling.
And the statistics sheet reflected their dominance at the break in every facet; in contrast the Crusaders had been forced to make 70 tackles and missed 11.
After halftime, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder attempted to reinvigorate his attack by bringing Zac Guildford on to the left wing and pushed Sean Maitland to fullback.
A try followed soon after but it was halfback Andy Ellis, following some fine work by openside flanker Matt Todd in robbing a turnover, who crossed the chalk in an awkward head-plant.
Highlanders 27 (Andrew Hore, Phil Burleigh, Hosea Gear tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 con, 2 pen)
Crusaders 24 (Israel Dagg, Andy Ellis tries; Tyler Bleyendaal con, 4 pen)
HT: 10-20

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