Highlanders put away patchy Crusaders

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2013
Ma'a Nonu
Photosport
BIG SIGNING: Ma'a Nonu made his debut for the Highlanders against the Crusaders in Oamaru.

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Todd Blackadder wasn't joking when he declared the Crusaders could expect some criticism following last night's 38-21 loss to the Highlanders.

While the Crusaders coach complicated his side's mission by resting several All Blacks, including Dan Carter and Kieran Read, there were aspects of this effort that will encourage him to suck his lozenges long and hard.

The messages he will dish out to his squad are likely to include the following: to win games you need to bowl opponents behind the advantage line, firing wild passes is a sure-fire way to lose momentum and if you don't treasure possession against ruck-hungry opponents like the Highlanders you are playing Russian roulette.

Blackadder will have also been concerned by the messy state of his scrum, although starting Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks against the Waratahs next Thursday should offer major assistance.

Wider training group tighthead prop Pa'ea Fa'anunu was given a brutal lesson by All Blacks opponent Tony Woodcock as the Crusaders struggled with the engagement and referee Garratt Williamson blurted a merry tune on his whistle.

"I was pleased with our first 30 minutes, we will take a lot of good stuff out of that, but the rest of it was a bit patchy really," Blackadder said.

"I was a bit disappointed with our first-up tackles that we missed and in the second half we were inaccurate with our passes. But these are things that can be fixed."

The pre-match plan to make mass changes at halftime, when they trailed 19-14, also did the Crusaders few favours.

While Highlanders boss Jamie Joseph elected to retain All Blacks such as Ma'a Nonu, Aaron Smith, Brad Thorn, Hosea Gear and Woodcock following the break, Blackadder introduced several wider training group and academy players.

The Highlanders revelled in having a superior lineup. Replacement pivot Hayden Parker scored twice and Lima Sopoaga added another try.

Had not Kieran Fonotia dotted down for the Crusaders in the final seconds, they would have been kept scoreless in the second half.

Highlanders 38 (Hayden Parker 2, Ma'a Nonu, Buxton Popoali'i, Hosea Gear, Lima Sopoaga tries, Sopoaga 2, Parker 2 con) Crusaders 21 (Luke Romano 2, Kieran Fonotia tries; Tom Taylor 2, Tyler Bleyendaal con) HT: 19-14. 

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