Highlanders smash derby drought against Crusaders

Cameron Millar of the Highlanders kicks for goal during tonight's Super Rugby Pacific match...
Cameron Millar of the Highlanders kicks for goal during tonight's Super Rugby Pacific match against the Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders broke their long losing streak against New Zealand teams and drove a nail into the Crusaders’ coffin with a 32-29 win at Forsyth Barr Stadium last night.

It was the Highlanders’ first win over their old rivals in over three years, and smashed a 19-game barren run in derby games.

They were simply superb in the first half and showed every ounce of composure they had in the second.

The crowd of 18,537 went barmy at the final whistle, celebrating a win that likely means the Highlanders will make the playoffs and the defending champion Crusaders will not.

Funnily enough, the Crusaders scored four tries and the Highlanders just two.

But the Highlanders had an ace up their sleeve – or, in this case, an ace up their boot.

Cameron Millar followed his sparkling performance against Moana Pasifika with a display of class and maturity.

He was also at his deadeye best off the tee, kicking six penalties and converting both tries, one of which he scored himself, for a haul of 27 points.

Millar is young and has a lot of rugby to come, but tonight will be recorded as his coming of age.

The Highlanders played with intent, purpose and fire in the first half and honestly could have carried more than a 26-14 lead into the sheds.

They were mostly excellent but also guilty of wasting a couple of golden opportunities and occasionally getting a bit excited when a cool executioner’s blade was required.

Hard to complain about any advantage over the old enemy, though.

Millar kicked an early penalty before the Highlanders scored the opening try through relatively fortuitous circumstances.

A Crusaders pass ricocheted off the head of Highlanders No 8 Nikora Broughton, and Tanielu Tele’a pounced on the loose ball and scampered 40m to the line.

Talk about a dream start. Just a shame it threatened to turn into a nightmare when former Alhambra-Union halfback Noah Hotham made a sizzling break, Folau Fakatava was rather harshly yellow carded for not releasing, and quick ball and the extra man led to a Sevu Reece try.

After Millar slotted another penalty, the Crusaders were denied a second try when Cullen Grace twisted over in the corner but his effort was ruled touch in goal.

The problem with the Crusaders, even these present-day strugglers, is that they can still find something from nothing, and their next effort was a stunner.

Veteran fullback Johnny McNicholl made a clean break, the effervescent Hotham was in support, and while his offload was erratic, it bounced off the foot of Dallas McLeod but did not go so far that McLeod could not regather to score.

The rest of the half, blessedly, belonged to the Highlanders.

An intricate lineout move was followed by Fakatava scooting up the middle from an open ruck, and dishing to Millar for the try.

Tanielu Tele'a celebrates after scoring a try. Photo: Getty Images
Tanielu Tele'a celebrates after scoring a try. Photo: Getty Images
Millar added two more penalties to complete a perfect half, while Broughton raised the roof with a barn-storming 40m run.

There was just a niggly feeling the Highlanders had left some points on the park, and the sin-binning of Crusaders lock Jamie Hannah late in the piece suggested the home side needed to capitalise on any more scoring opportunities.

It was really not ideal that the Crusaders were first on the board in the second half.

The Highlanders did a couple of sloppy things, the visitors went wide quickly and Reece was on hand for his second try.

A Chay Fihaki penalty meant the Highlanders’ 12-point lead had quickly been reduced to four.

That is where it sat with 20 minutes to play – then 15, then 10 – as both sides followed promising attacks with a mistake or a poor decision.

Squeaky bum time, the great football manager Alex Ferguson called it.

The tension was unbearable.

Just as the Crusaders invaded the red zone, Highlanders winger Timoci Tavatavanawai wrangled a turnover – was that his 50th for the season?

The Crusaders got an attacking lineout but it was pinched by Mitch Dunshea. Serves the Evil Empire right for letting him go.

The Highlanders did not need to score, remember. They just needed to cling on with every ounce of energy they had.

Millar kicked his fifth penalty of the night to get the advantage back to seven, and completed the evening of his life with a long-range sixth.

Then it was wind-down-the-clock time, interrupted only by a very late try to Crusaders winger Macca Springer.

That took absolutely no gloss off one of the Highlanders’ great wins.

Super Rugby

The scores

Highlanders 32

Tanielu Tele’a, Cameron Millar tries; Millar 2 con, 6 pen

Crusaders 29

Sevu Reece 2, Dallas McLeod, Macca Springer tries; Chay Fihaki 3 con, pen

Halftime: Highlanders 26-14.