Highlanders gutsy but gone

Luke Whitelock, of the Highlanders, is tackled by Crusader Scott Barrett during their Super Rugby...
Luke Whitelock, of the Highlanders, is tackled by Crusader Scott Barrett during their Super Rugby quarterfinal in Christchurch last night. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
A for effort but unfortunately not the same for attainment.

It was a brave and gutsy effort from the Highlanders but courage can only go so far.

The Highlanders threw out a decent effort and, if anything, won the physical battle against the Crusaders in Christchurch last night.

But it did not win the statistic that mattered, on the scoreboard, as the Crusaders ran away with the match in the second half to win the first Super Rugby quarterfinal 38-14.

The score did not reflect the Highlanders' effort. They were gallant but not quite accurate enough, for to beat this Crusaders team requires a mistake-free game and nothing stupid.

Winger Waisake Naholo does his best to break out of  the tackle of Crusader Ryan Crotty. PHOTO:...
Winger Waisake Naholo does his best to break out of the tackle of Crusader Ryan Crotty. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGE
The Highlanders were in the game at 17-14 down at the break and shading the Crusaders in the battle for the gain line.

But it lost loose forward Liam Squire to a yellow card for a no-arms tackle early in the second half and while he was off the field the home team scored two tries which won it the game.

Squire plays on the edge and that is what you get with him. The way referee Jaco Peyper was ruling things, Squire was always going to cool his heels.

The Crusaders got all the momentum in the second half and the Highlanders had no territory to mount any threat. Richie Mo'unga got 23 points and won the game for his team.

Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith about to clear the ball from a ruck.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith about to clear the ball from a ruck.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Best for the Highlanders were locks Jackson Hemopo and Tom Franklin, while Aaron Smith worked hard, as did midfielders Tei Walden and Rob Thompson.

The Highlanders showed they were up for the contest in the first 20 minutes and did not take a backward step.

The home team scored a Mo'unga penalty early after a stray Highlanders hand-knocked down a pass.

The Highlanders, though, quickly got the ball back and from a nippy Aaron Smith break, Hemopo looked to have barged over.

Referee Peyper awarded the try but after a long discussion - when are they not? - with the television match official, the try was scrubbed out for a double movement. Harsh call, perhaps, when tries like this have been awarded all season.

The Highlanders had a chance to level things up when Josh Ioane had a handy enough penalty but hit the post from 35m out.

Highlanders hooker Ash Dixon makes a break with ball in hand. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Highlanders hooker Ash Dixon makes a break with ball in hand. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
But the try the Highlanders deserved for all the pressure finally came after 16 minutes. After a forward drive the ball went wide and centre Thompson stepped winger Sevu Reece. He passed it on to Ben Smith who put Sio Tomkinson in the corner.

However, their major fault of the season came back to haunt them as they could not sustain any pressure and they paid for it.

First, the home team had an attacking lineout and after the forwards tried to drive over, the ball went wide and fullback David Havili crossed under the bar.

Five minutes later the Crusaders were in again when a nice passing movement down the left freed up Mo'unga and he ran away to score a try, which he converted.

Down 10 points, the Highlanders could have folded but they came back and after a period of attack, midfielder Walden banged through a Jack Goodhue tackle and went over - just - to get his side back into the contest with three minutes left in the first half.

Super Rugby

The scores

Crusaders 38
Richie Mo’unga 2, David Havili, Whetu Douglas, Michael Alaalatoa tries;

Mo’unga 5 con, pen

Highlanders 14

Sio Tomkinson, Tei Walden tries;

Josh Ioane 2 con

Halftime: 17-14

Crowd: 13,500

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