Highlanders edge Crusaders
The Otago Highlanders celebrated the first Super Rugby match at their new Dunedin stadium with an impressive 27-24 victory over the Canterbury Crusaders on Saturday.
Tries from hooker Andrew Hore, centre Phil Burleigh and winger Hosea Gear, as well as 12 points from the boot of flyhalf Lima Sopoaga, held off a Crusaders comeback in front of a passionate crowd under the roof at the Otago Regional Stadium.
A malfunctioning stadium clock added extra drama at the death with the Highlanders twice booting the ball into touch believing the 80 minutes were up, only for the referee to continue play. The relief when the end finally came was palpable.
There has not been much to cheer about in Otago rugby recently with the financial crisis enveloping the provincial rugby union but the Highlanders did their bit to raise morale with an opening week upset of the Auckland Blues.
The seven-times champion Crusaders are an altogether different proposition and tries from wing Israel Dagg and Andy Ellis along with flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal's 14 point tally meant the Highlanders had to fight every inch of the way for the victory.
They grabbed the momentum at the end of the first half when 10 minutes of pressure climaxed with Burleigh squeezing through half a gap and bulldozing his way across the line to send the home side in 20-10 up.
The Crusaders came out firing in the second half and had overhauled the Highlanders within four minutes of the restart after rampaging lock George Whitelock set up Ellis for his try and Bleyendaal made up for missing the conversion by slotting two penalties.
The Highlanders were in no mood to have their party gatecrashed, however, and 12 minutes from time quick hands in the backline got the ball out to All Black Gear and he made no mistake with a classic winger's finish in the corner.
Sopoaga calmly added the extra points from out wide to give the Highlanders a lead they would never relinquish and bragging rights in the South Island of New Zealand. – Reuters