Reaction to this afternoons Super Rugby clash at AMI Stadium was literally ‘off the charts’. In a game that went from sublime to incredible, in a climatic rugby match ending where the last gasp kick by Mitchell Hunt seals Win for Crusaders fans.
The above image of Mitchell Hunt stepping back and aiming to take a drop goal would not have been in the game plan, but it was ultimately the game clincher. As Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson put it; the moment. And it is a credit to his team mates that he made the 45 meter distance.
Crusaders 25 Highlanders 22
It was a match won overall, but they had to play with heart. Not only making a statement on their championship credentials but they won the ‘Mainland Battle’ as this local derby is referred to.
Over the opening half of rugby, the Crusaders had started the better in Super Rugby Round 15. Two early tries set out a marker. The conference leading side were outclassing the Highlanders until Richard Buckman found space to score. That made it 19-10 at halftime.
Still in the match, Highlanders head coach Tony Brown thought his team came out better in the match after the change of ends. “We came here and put in a massive effort.
“We put them under pressure and we created a lot of opportunities, and put them under pressure but that’s footy. It was a cracking game”.
After Waisake Nahol had taken two opportunistic intercept tries, the match was in the visitors hands. At 19-22, they were like two Bulls banging heads for the final quarter. With substitutions made; including Mitchell Hunt on for Richie Mo’unga, some proved to be successful. Others, not so much.
Highlanders Team Try to Hold Off Fast Finishing Crusaders
Lima Sopoaga replaced Marty Banks, and with Ben Smith aving left the field in the 45th minute, it was a case of ‘holding back a fast-finishing Crusaders’ team. That has been nearly impossible task, and when Hunt kicked a penalty with only four minutes left, the heat was on.
What the coaches did agree on, was that the wider channels were successfully closed. Robertson said that his side had to adjust, and Brown agreed. The front-on defense from men like Luke Whitelock and Alex Ainley putting their bodies on the line. They closed down the threat out wide from Seta Tamanivalu, and Ryan Crotty was taken from the field too, which removed an earlier challenge by the All Blacks midfielder.
With all their determination, it appeared that the Southern men had stopped the Crusaders attack. “Even though we didn’t get the result, they put in a hell of an effort and I’m really proud of the boys defense”.
And his team did hold up incredibly well. Almost defying the weight of pressure, until a solo piece of magic completed a fairy tale result for the seven-time champion, Crusaders.
— Jamie Pandaram (@JamiePandaram) June 3, 2017
Moment of Brilliance, Mitchell Hunt seals a Win for Crusaders
“We were going forward and back, probably more so back, and I was harping onto the boys to give them some confidence. Wyatt Crockett turned around and says ‘do something with it’. I probably wasn’t going to argue with Crocky, and thought I’d better chuck something in”.
That moment of brilliance is something that Hunt says as a boy he would practice as the last minute at practice. The game winner, and to the delight of fans and team management at AMI Stadium, it went over.
— scott hornell (@scotthornell73) June 3, 2017
If ever there was a ‘clutch play’ then in rugby, it is the final minute dropkick. Used in so many matches overseas, but less so in Super Rugby. Today memories of one particular match sticks out: Ronan O’Gara winning the Heineken Cup final for Munster over Northampton.
The discipline of the Crusaders players to make 19 unbroken phases of attack, before they were able to provide Mitchell Hunt the opportunity must be recognized. No errors made, no turnovers (which they had done in the first half). For the entire squad, they all were elated when that kick went over, and retained the 14 straight winning streak.
Once the Fans Had Left the Crusaders Celebrated
Post game, after all the crowds had left the Stadium, song could be heard from the home sides changing sheds. Cheers and shouts of joy which was the result of hard play for 79 minutes, and then a touch of fairy tale for Mitchell Hunt. He most likely will never forget this moment, where he [again] scored the clutch match winner.
“It was a matter of getting that kick away, and hoping for the best at that stage”.
It was a happy Crusaders team who would cherish this result. As would fans, who now see there team at the top of the standings, 14 consecutive wins, and looking ‘near unbeatable’ before they challenge the touring Lions next Saturday.
Crusaders v British and Irish Lions – 7:35pm, AMI Stadium
“Main photo credit”