Crusaders humble Highlanders in derby
The Crusaders' roll to the Super Rugby playoffs continued with a 40-12 bonus point-win over the Highlanders in Dunedin which included Ma'a Nonu's red card for a tip tackle.
Nonu's tackle on Crusaders winger Tom Marshall was a clear example of what not to do, and gave referee Steve Walsh little choice but to send him from the field.
It was a key part of the game, too, with the Highlanders still celebrating a quality try to Hosea Gear which had them back in contention at 20-12 with quarter of the game left.
An Andy Ellis try soon after halftime proved the difference between two teams struggling to find their momentum after the June break.
Some strong Crusaders defence, and a dominant scrum were the key weapons for a Crusaders team which will be pleased to get out of this one with their campaign still on track.
The Highlanders struggled to get their game going in front of 18,463 in their final game at Forsyth Barr Stadium for 2013.
Two pieces of individual brilliance shone like diamonds in the dross of an inept first half with both teams showing plenty of rust from their three week hiatus.
First there was a brilliant behind-the-back pass from Tamati Ellison which found Ben Smith perfectly for the Highlanders first try.
Slade's in-off conversion gave the Highlanders a 7-3 lead after an early penalty by Dan Carter, and it was the All Black first-five who provided the other highlight of the opening 40 minutes when he ran through a big gap close to the ruck, fended off Fumiaki Tanaka and then Smith and popped the scoring pass to a grateful George Whitelock.
The Crusaders' try was a heartbreaker for the Highlanders, who had managed to get through almost the full 10 minutes with Jarrad Hoeata in the bin for some facial work on Andy Ellis.
The Crusaders had done their best to blow a series of chances in the left hand corner as the Highlanders recovered the ball and were rewarded by a Slade penalty which wobbled like a winged duck on a tough kicking night for the Highlanders No 10.
Instead of leading 10-3, the Highlanders found themselves on the receiving end of the Carter break just before Hoeata came back onto the field.
A Carter penalty on the hooter saw the Crusaders up 13-7 at the break.
It should have been more immediately after halftime, Nonu's first act of the second half being to offer up a charge down which Zac Guildford would have turned into a try if it weren't for the timely intervention of Slade.
It was only a brief respite, with Ellis backing up the break by Tom Marshall to score handy to the posts.
The introduction of Nonu and Aaron Smith after halftime wasn't enough for the Highlanders to spark an improbable win and snap what is now a three-game losing streak against the Crusaders, although Gear was able to celebrate his 100th game of Super Rugby with a quality bit of a finishing in the corner.
Corey Flynn was binned shortly after coming onto the field in the second half for a high shot on Aaron Smith.
The Crusaders grabbed a bonus point try on the final whistle with a length of the field try to former Highlanders player Telusa Veainu.
Crusaders 40 (George Whitelock, Andy Ellis, Dan Carter, Telusa Veainutries; Carter 4 pen, 4 con) Highlanders 12 (Ben Smith, Hosea Gear tries; Colin Slade con) HT: 13-7