Highlanders get their Super Rugby quarterfinals wish - the Crusaders

Highlanders coach Tony Brown's wish for a quarterfinal against the Crusaders was granted.
DIANE MANSON/GETTY IMAGES

Highlanders coach Tony Brown's wish for a quarterfinal against the Crusaders was granted.

Wish granted. The Highlanders got exactly what they wanted from the final round of Super Rugby - another crack at the Crusaders. 

The teams have a quarterfinal date in Christchurch on Saturday night, with the winner going on to play the Chiefs or Stormers in the semifinals. 

Sleeping in their own beds for the week and flying one-hour north to Christchurch sure beats jetting 11,000km to Johannesburg to play the top-seeded Lions, the other quarterfinal scenario the Highlanders faced.

Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty is tackled by Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo in Christchurch last month.
JOHN DAVIDSON/PHOTOSPORT

Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty is tackled by Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo in Christchurch last month.

It was a no-brainer for Highlanders coach Tony Brown, who maintained last week he'd much rather play the Crusaders at AMI Stadium, the venue of his team's most gut-wrenching loss this season. 

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So he turned into a Hurricanes fan for a couple of hours on Saturday night, cheering them on to victory against the previously unbeaten Crusaders in Wellington.

The Hurricanes' 31-22 win, and the Lions' win over the Sharks in Durban, meant Brown and his team didn't have to jump on a plane bound for South Africa - via Australia - on Sunday morning. 

But as the saying goes: Be careful what you wish for. 

The Crusaders swamp Mitch Hunt after he nailed the game-winning drop goal against the Highlanders in Christchurch last month.
PHOTOSPORT

The Crusaders swamp Mitch Hunt after he nailed the game-winning drop goal against the Highlanders in Christchurch last month.

The Highlanders must now play a team not only stung by slipping to the second-seed, but one they've only beaten 11 times in 31 attempts.

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Two of their 20 losses were heart-breakers this season, with a second-half capitulation to blame for a 30-27 loss at Forsyth Barr Stadium in round two, before Crusaders pivot Mitch Hunt lashed over a scarcely believable 47m drop goal to snatch a stunning 25-22 win in last month's rematch in Christchurch.

Speaking after that loss, which snapped a franchise record nine-match winning streak, Brown suspected his team would get a shot at revenge in the playoffs. 

Crusaders winger Seta Tamanivalu scores the match-winning try against the Highlanders in Dunedin in March.
DIANNE MANSON/GETTY-IMAGES

Crusaders winger Seta Tamanivalu scores the match-winning try against the Highlanders in Dunedin in March.

While the 14-1 Crusaders will head into the sudden-death quarterfinal off a loss, the Highlanders ended the regular season with a comfortable 40-17 win against the Reds in Dunedin on Friday night.  

The result ensured they finished the season with an 11-4 record, a remarkable turnaround after they stumbled out of the blocks and lost three of their first four games. 

"I feel as though we have created a lot of momentum," Brown said after his team wrapped up the regular season.

The Crusaders front row of Owen Franks (left), Codie Taylor and Joe Moody will be back to play the Highlanders.
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The Crusaders front row of Owen Franks (left), Codie Taylor and Joe Moody will be back to play the Highlanders.

"But the biggest positive for us is our whole squad is fit, our whole squad is raring to go. There's going to be some tough selection calls and there's going to be a lot of excitement going into this first quarterfinal."

The Highlanders rested fullback Ben Smith and halfback Aaron Smith against the Reds, but both are expected to play against the Crusaders. 

Utility Matt Faddes, who broke his hand against  the Crusaders on June 3, is also expected to be available. 

Meanwhile, the Crusaders will have their All Black front row of Owen Franks, Codie Taylor and Joe Moody back after sitting out the loss to the Hurricanes. 

Captain and lock Sam Whitelock, who played 20 minutes off the bench against the Hurricanes, will also return to the starting side. 

Midfielder Ryan Crotty (hamstring) hasn't played since the first test match between the All Blacks and British and Irish Lions last month, but is on track to return for what is sure to be the pick of the quarterfinals.

 - Stuff

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