Super Rugby: Crusaders edge Highlanders 32-30 at Forsyth Barr
Last Updated: 24/05/14 11:05am
Crusaders moved third in the Super Rugby ladder at snatched top spot in the New Zealand conference with a 32-30 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin.
Jordan Taufua, Tim Perry, Nepo Lualala and Nemani Nadolo all crossed the whitewash as the Christchurch-based franchise recorded a bonus-point win.
Colin Slade also kicked 12 points at Forsyth Barr as the Crusaders replaced Chiefs in both the overall and national tables, with the defending champions suffering a heavy defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes later on Saturday.
Ged Robinson, Patrick Osborne, All Black call-up Malakai Fekitoa and Ben Smith all touched down as the Highlanders claimed two losing bonus points as their run of back-to-back victories ended.
The Highlanders almost clinched victory at the death, only for Osborne to be denied a match-winning try by Crusaders full-back Israel Dagg.
It was the visitors who made the brighter start and despite Nadolo being denied a try for a forward pass in the ninth minute; they did claim the opening score two minutes later.
After winning a line-out, the Crusaders were relentless in attack and their reward came when Taufua crossed in and Slade made no mistake from the kicking tee.
However, the Highlanders were presented with the perfect opportunity to get back into the game as Crusaders back-row Richie McCaw was sent to the sin bin after being singled out from a line-out fracas.
Jamie Joseph's side seized the advantage and after working through the phases prop Robinson eventually forced his way over, although fly-half Lima Sopoaga missed a simple conversion.
The Highlanders remained in the ascendancy and charged into the lead when scrum-half Aaron Smith released Fekitoa, who passed wide to Osborne and the winger showed a fine turn of pace to dot down their second try.
Sopoaga managed to slot the extras at the second time of asking before Slade brought the Crusaders within two with a penalty on the cusp of half-time.
Nadolo again made a flying start to the half for Todd Blackadder's side as he raced for the line before popping the ball up for prop Perry to cross over.
Sopoaga went on to level the scores with a penalty, but parity lasted less than a minute as the Crusaders continued to race through the gears.
A storming Ryan Crotty break was the catalyst to a fine team move which resulted in Lualala breaking through for the Crusaders' third try of the match, which Slade converted with ease.
Replacement Hayden Parker assumed kicking duties from Sopoaga and added three points for the Highlanders, but their penalty was again followed by a Crusaders score.
Nadolo initiated the move as he charged over the gain line and they continued to make ground through Dagg before winger Nadolo touched down the all-important bonus-point try.
The Highlanders refused to lay down as Fekitoa made a fine break before regaining possession to cross in their third try of the match, but Parker was unable to add the extras.
A second Slade penalty increased the Crusaders advantage before All Black flyer Smith raced over a bonus-point try for the Highlanders and Parker's successful conversion set up a tense finale.
With the Highlanders on the attack, Parker sat deep waiting for a drop-goal opportunity, but the ball was spread wide to Osborne, who thought he had touched down in the dying seconds.
Referee Glen Jackson left the decision in the hands of TMO Vinny Munro, who ruled that Dagg had made a try-saving challenge with Osborne forced into touch, leaving the Highlanders agonisingly short.
Super Rugby 2014 Round 15
Western Force scored four tries in a 29-19 victory over the Lions to see them move into the Super Rugby play-offs.
Hurricanes claimed a shock 45-8 victory, including six tries, against defending champions Chiefs in Wellington.
NSW Waratahs ran in six tries during a 41-19 win over Melbourne Rebels.