Playing at home is very special and a battle against the neighbours is always a tough one, said captain Sam Whitelock. Photo: EPA/Jeremy Ng

WELLINGTON – The Canterbury Crusaders came from behind in an emphatic second half to beat the Otago Highlanders 43-17 and maintain their unbeaten run at home in Super Rugby on Friday.

The defending champions have now gone 24 consecutive matches, dating back to 2016, without defeat at their Christchurch fortress. 

The Highlanders didn't make it easy for them and, like the ACT Brumbies last week, they were leading the Crusaders at half-time. 

But the second half was one-way traffic in the New Zealand derby, with a David Havili try one minute after the restart igniting a five-try blitz.

“Playing at home is very special and a battle against the neighbours is always a tough one,” said captain Sam Whitelock.

“They came out and put us under pressure. They were beating us around the corner, beating us to the breakdown and it took us a while to adjust to that.”

The Highlanders arrived in Christchurch a desperate side having won their first two matches then losing the next four, and with their scheduled home match against the Crusaders cancelled due to the terrorist attacks in Christchurch.

They were also keen to honour their talismanic skipper Ben Smith who was playing his milestone 150th Super Rugby match. 

It was Smith who set the game alight in the second minute when he stepped his way through a wall of defenders to score and give the Highlanders an early lead. 

Although the Crusaders were making all the play, the Highlanders extended their advantage in the 10th minute on their second foray into Crusaders territory with a Josh Ioane penalty. 

The Crusaders dominated possession and territory but let themselves down with handling errors and missed tackles. 

But when they eliminated the mistakes, the points came. 

Richie Mo'unga exposed a huge defensive hole to put Braydon Ennor away for the Crusaders' first try and they trailed 10-7 at the break. 

Once Havili put the Crusaders in front at the start of the second half, they followed up with a Mo'unga penalty, then used their forward power to win a penalty try, and added further tries to Sevu Reece, Mitch Drummond and Will Jordan. 

Ioane latched on to a Folau Fakatava chip-kick to give the Highlanders late points.

The Crusaders have a bye next week but have a big enough lead in the competition to stay at the top of the table, while the Highlanders return home to host the Auckland Blues.

Agence France-Presse (AFP)