Cards and Carter fuel Highlanders' misery
The Highlanders will keep the Sanzar judiciary busy this week with Ma'a Nonu and Jarrad Hoeata both in trouble after Saturday's 40-12 loss to the Crusaders in Dunedin.
Poor discipline cost the Highlanders, who spent 32 minutes with only 14 men after Hoeata was sinbinned for a facial on Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis in the first half and Nonu was sent off for a tip tackle on wing Tom Marshall in the second.
Nonu has also been given an off-field yellow card for an alleged high tackle on Dan Carter, which was missed by the officials at the time, and Hoeata will have to front the judiciary after picking up his third yellow card of the season.
Sanzar releases its decision on Nonu late last night with the All Black banned for three weeks, meaning his Super Rugby season is over.
The Highlanders did not want to talk about the citings yesterday.
On Saturday they led 7-3 early on, thanks to a special pass from Tamati Ellison to Ben Smith when Hoeata was spotted by an assistant referee interfering with Ellis' face at a ruck.
The home team looked like it would get through the ensuing 10 minutes unscathed but, after a Colin Slade penalty rebounded off the upright, the Crusaders went on to score through George Whitelock after a searing break by an outstanding Dan Carter.
That 10-point turnaround helped the Crusaders to a 13-7 lead and when Ellis scored shortly after halftime, the game appeared to be out of the Highlanders' reach.
To their credit, the Highlanders then constructed one of their best tries of the season, finished off superbly by Hosea Gear in his 100th Super Rugby game.
Despite Slade's woeful kicking form, they were trailing by only eight points with 20 minutes left.
Then Nonu was sent from the field and Carter took over, kicking two penalties and scoring a try, which he converted for a 33-12 lead.
Former Highlander Telusa Veainu scored a length-of-the-field special in the final minute for the bonus point and a further boost to the Crusaders' playoff hopes.
Carter was brilliant on attack and defence, and landed all eight of his shots at goal, drawing praise from Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.
"I thought he really took it to the gain line, especially in that first - not only with his attack but you could see what he did on defence. He was really sharp tonight and he really steered us to a victory."
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph wasn't despondent after the loss - it's been a season where he's had plenty of opportunities to get used to similar performances.
His team were competitive during a first half where both teams struggled to get into gear, and the result may have been different if it weren't for Slade's poor kicking, Carter's brilliance and the dumb play of Hoeata and Nonu.
Those are big "ifs", however - almost as big as the scrum pressure the Crusaders were able to exert with a second-string front row.
For the Highlanders, the end can't come soon enough, but is still a fortnight away.
The Southland Times