Crusaders beat Highlanders 40-20 in Super Rugby Aotearoa

DUNEDIN, New Zealand (AP) — Tom Christie and Will Jordan scored two tries each as the Christchurch-based Crusaders finished strongly to beat the Highlanders 40-20 Saturday and stay unbeaten after four rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

The Crusaders led 26-20 with three minutes remaining but Christie and Jordan both then picked up their second tries to clinch a bonus point for the tournament leaders.

The Highlanders led 17-14 at halftime, largely against the run of play. The Crusaders had significant advantages of possession and territory but were repeatedly thwarted by a tenacious defense.

The match hinged on a 10-minute period in the second half when the Crusaders scored tries through flanker Christie and winger Sevu Reece while the Highlanders were denied by a try-saving tackle by flyhalf Richie Mo’unga.

Mo’unga also booted three penalties and three conversions.

“We tried to play a bit too much in the first half and our discipline let us down,” Crusaders captain Codie Taylor said. “We just knew that if we were a bit more direct and earned the right to go through them, then go wide, our opportunities would come.

“I’m just happy with the boys' execution in the second half.”

The Crusaders started strongly, repeatedly forcing their way into Highlanders territory, stretching the defense and making the home team live on scraps of possession.

They took their first points from a Mo’unga penalty in the 10th minute, then scored the opening try through Jordan. Lock Mitchell Dunshea led a strong surge down the left and quick hands from David Havili, Braydon Ennor and Jack Goodhue moved the ball to Jordan, who scored just inside the right corner flag.

The Crusaders’ eight-point lead was the largest held by either side until the final moments.

All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell led a Highlanders resurgence, scoring in the 19th minute and his team seized an unlikely lead with a try five minutes later from winger Ngane Punivai.

After an exchange of penalties, the Highlanders went to halftime with a three-point advantage.

The Crusaders wrested back the momentum with the first of Christie’s two tries in the 50th minute, leading 21-17.

The Highlanders had the chance to go ahead two minutes later but Mo’unga cut down Jona Nareki when the winger had two players unmarked outside him, saving a certain try.

Reece came off the bench to claim a brilliant try in the 60th minute, expanding the Crusaders’ lead to 26-20.

Christie scored to make the game safe and Jordan clinched the bonus point with a breakout try just before full time.

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