All Blacks winger Zac Guildford scored two tries, both created by flyhalf Daniel Carter who kicked 16 points, as the Canterbury Crusaders beat the Otago Highlanders 51-18 in Super Rugby yesterday.
Guildford, who will likely play in New Zealand’s Tests this month against Ireland, fetched Carter’s chip-kicks in the 29th and 34th minutes to score tries that gave the Crusaders control after the Highlanders rallied from 10-0 down to lead 13-10.
George Whitelock, Ryan Crotty, Wyatt Crockett, Matt Todd and All Blacks captain Richie McCaw also scored as the Crusaders posted their highest-ever score against the Highlanders and moved up to second place at the start of the tournament’s 15th round.
The Crusaders closed within two points of overall leaders the Waikato Chiefs, who also lead the New Zealand conference, ahead of the Chiefs’ clash today with the Auckland Blues. The Highlanders stayed in seventh place, one point outside the top six, but their chances of making the playoffs are now more dependent on the outcome of other matches.
Yesterday’s match was intensely physical and typical of derby clashes between New Zealand’s two South Island franchises. Both teams had a player sent to the sin-bin in the first half and 28 points were scored in the 20 minutes they were absent from the field.
After scoring the opening try in the third minute, flanker Whitelock was sin-binned as referee Steve Walsh lost patience with a series of fouls. In Whitelock’s absence, All Blacks center Tamati Ellison scored the try that gave the Highlanders their only lead of the match.
England flanker James Haskell, playing for the Highlanders, was sent to the sin-bin in the 26th for similarly playing the ball on the ground and Guildford scored his two tries before he returned.
Inside center Crotty, who was one of the most creative members of the Crusaders backline, also scored as they added 22 points in 11 minutes to seal a four-try bonus point and a 32-13 lead by halftime.
“It was a very physical encounter,” Carter said.
“That first 20 minutes really set the standard and we knew we really had to get physical and we did that and got the reward by scoring those tries. We knew this was a very important match for us against the Highlanders. They’re sitting just behind us on the table, so it was a must win and I’m really proud of the boys tonight,” he said.
The Crusaders resumed the onslaught in the second half, scoring through McCaw only six minutes after the resumption. His was the most contentions of several disputed tries they scored, containing at least one forward pass and a doubtful grounding.
Crockett scored in the 56th after a Crusaders attack that also included a knock-on and replacement flanker Todd scored their seventh and final try 10 minutes from fulltime.
The Highlanders gained a small consolation from an intercept try to winger Hosea Gear in the 60th that almost certainly prevented another Crusaders try.
The Crusaders held a huge advantage over the Highlanders at the scrum and they gradually established the same ascendancy at the breakdown. Their continuous supply of possession and heavy territorial advantage translated easily into points because of the line-breaking ability of players such as Crotty, Guildford and center Robbie Fruean.
“Hats off to the red and black team, they were on fire tonight,” Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh said.