In the first match of the 2019 Super Rugby playoffs, it was a more confident Crusaders team that dismantled a strong challenge from the Highlanders, 38-14.
In a masterclass performance, led by Richie Mo’unga and Kieran Read, the Crusaders began their Finals Series with a positive outcome. It came via a difficult and thorough challenge from the Highlanders.
The quarterfinal played in Christchurch, ended with an emphatic result, which cements the home sides record to have ‘never lost a playoff match on home soil’. That record stayed intact from both defence, as well as a positive counter-attack mentality. On multiple occasions, turned over ball resulted in a try or gains in field position. The statistics show that from possession of only 42%, to then hold a 62% advantage in the second half. That change in stats was both in the form and in the confidence level of the Crusaders; as much as by a yellow card to Highlander loose forward Liam Squire, for a ‘no arms’ tackle.
If that penalty in the 45th minute was a game changer, it took much effort to then hold down the Highlanders huge defensive attitude. Led by the departing Ben Smith and Luke Whitelock, big hits from the majority of ‘Landers forwards will be felt by the Crusaders players post-game.
High intensity due to the occasion, this encounter was full of big clashes.
That was across the park too, with Teihorangi Walden showing his metal. A tryscorer in the opening half, he put in 11 tackles in attempting to counter Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue. Aaron Smith was superb in his ball distribution, but the shift in momentum in the second 40 minutes cemented the status of the defending champions.
But the main conduit of offence from the semifinals bound Crusaders, was first five-eighth, Richie Mo’unga.
Congratulations @mo_richie who equals @DanCarter for the equal most points (23) by a Crusader in a @SuperRugby finals match@crusadersrugby move on to meet the winner of #HURvBUL in next week's semi final#CRUvHIG pic.twitter.com/JOUUJaGoIX
— Fox Sports Lab (@FoxSportsLab) June 21, 2019
Highlanders dismantled by confident Crusaders; Super Rugby playoffs
Mo’unga is blossoming as a world class player. Already a Super Rugby title winner on two occasions, he was not hindered by the moment. Flourishing in fact, with positional play, kicks, taking on the line and his defence. Not weak in any of the skills needed by a commanding number 10, he was in his element in scoring 23 points.
Kieran Read was also reaching his peak. Returning from back surgery, the All Blacks captain emerged from the head-to-head against Luke Whitelock, as the superior ball-handling number eight. Showing his trait of being on the fringes when on attack, he also showed his quality in upsetting the Highlanders lineout.
Losing five from 12 set piece throws, it hindered the sides ability to maintain possession. Read and Crusaders skipper Sam Whitelock showed their class. Easy when you have a pack full of All Blacks, but the challenge from Jackson Hemopo and Daniel Lienert-Brown made them have to work for the ability for Mo’unga and his outside backs, to prosper.
At 17-14 after 40 minutes, a finely balanced battle leaned further toward the hosts, when penalties began to disable the visitor’s efforts. Three converted tries in the second half disabled the threat of the Highlanders, whose record of leaking 30+ points meant the better team won on the day.
Crusaders 38 – Tries: Havili, Mo’unga (2), Douglas, Alaalatoa; Conversions: Mo’unga (5); Penalty: Mo’unga
Highlanders 14 – Tries: Tomkinson, Walden; Cons: Ioane (2)
The Crusaders now wait on the other Super Rugby playoffs results on Saturday. Those outcomes will settle the fixtures for the semifinals.
One is being hosted by the current title holders, who appear to be in formidable form, and looking surely at another Grand Final appearance.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images