The Crusaders managed to emerge victors against a spirited Blues out fit in a top-of-the-table clash which advertised the tournament beautifully. In Wellington, the Hurricanes contained a late surge from the Highlanders to secure their second victory.
Crusaders v Blues
The first half belonged to the Blues but, the second half and, ultimately, the game was snatched by the Crusaders.
Predictably, the teams threw everything they had at one another in a blue and red blur of hard running and uncompromising defence.
The Blues drew first blood when Mark Telea dived over in the corner during the 10th minute of play and it looked like the men from Auckland would be unstoppable on the night.
The boot of Richie Mo’unga kept the Crusaders within reach as the fly-half added two penalties to reduce the deficit to a single point when the half-time whistle sounded.
After Otere Black and Mo’unga traded penalties in the second half, Rieko Ioane powered over for a try to take the scores to 15-9.
The exalted mood of the Blues was short-lived, however, as the tide began to turn in favour of the Crusaders whose potential and dominance began to blossom in the latter stages of the game.
Replacement Mitchell Drummond finished off a good attack out wide in the 60th minute before Will Jordan hammered the final nail in the Blues coffin, jinking through to score with 5 minutes remaining.
Final score: 26-15.
Tries: Mitchell Drummond, Will Jordan
Conversions: Richie Mo'unga (2)
Penalties: Richie Mo’unga (4)
Tries: Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane
Conversions: Otere Black
Penalties: Otere Black
Hurricanes v Highlanders
The Highlanders found their feet too late in the game to be able to put their Wellington rivals away in a physical match-up.
The ‘Canes dotted down twice in the first half – through captain TJ Perenara and winger Kobus van Wyk – to give themselves a 12 point cushion as the teams jogged off for half-time.
The break did little to hamper the momentum of the men in yellow as flanker Devan Flanders crashed over in the second half’s infancy.
The Highlanders hit back in the 58th minute with a well-worked try by captain Aaron Smith which seemed to kick his team into a higher gear as they began to compete strongly for the game in the final quarter. Mitch Hunt slotted a penalty just before full-time to take the Highlanders into bonus point territory, however, some miscommunication at the final lineout allowed the Hurricanes to win the ball and boot it out for victory.
Hurricanes 17 (12)
Tries: TJ Perenara, Kobus van Wyk, Devan Flanders
Conversion: Jordie Barrett
Highlanders 11 (0)
Try: Aaron Smith
Penalties: Mitch Hunt (2)