Crusaders in Super semis, roll Highlanders

Jul 22, 2017 - 10:27 AM The Crusaders have rediscovered their winning touch in emphatic style, overwhelming the Highlanders 17-0 in a drenched Super Rugby quarter-final.

The All Black-laden Crusaders' pack dominated Saturday's match which was ruined by rain, icy temperature and a waterlogged AMI Stadium surface.

The seven-time champions regained their winning touch, having opened the season with 14 victories before losing to the British and Irish Lions and the Hurricanes.

Bristling again with power and pragmatism, they booked a home semi-final against the winners of the quarter-final on Sunday morning (AEST) between the Stormers and Chiefs in Cape Town.

Both of their tries came late in the first half via close-range flops over the line from front-rowers Joe Moody and Codie Taylor, summing up a match bereft of highlights.

It was a lesson in clinical forward play from the hosts, whose dominance left the Highlanders scoreless for just the second time in their 297-match history.

Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said the conditions were among the worst he had experienced.

"Before the game, a few of the boys were seeing how deep that water was out there.

"It wouldn't have been the prettiest to watch. The weather was great for us - we really embraced it."

It capped a forgettable build-up for the visitors, who landed in Christchurch just eight hours before kickoff. Their Friday flight out of Dunedin was cancelled and there was never any prospect of driving north on the flood-hit roads.

Centre Malakai Fekitoa barely touched the ball in his final match for the Highlanders before departing for French club Toulon.

Coach Tony Brown is also leaving for a role with Japan.

Captain Ben Smith was disappointed they wouldn't leave on a better note.

"Tactically, they were probably a bit smarter with the way they played and put us under a lot of pressure.

"Once they got into our 22, they used the ball wisely. Their forwards got stuck into it."

The two previous southern derbies this season had been epics, both won late by the Crusaders.

That never looked like being the case from the moment Highlanders flanker Liam Squire was shown a fifth-minute yellow card for a swinging arm tackle on Richie Mo'unga.

Five-eighth Mo'unga recovered to slot the penalty, but missed three others from virtually right in front, underlying the treacherous conditions.

Both tries came on the back of enormous possession and territory counts favouring the Crusaders - about 80 per cent each - helped by a first-half penalty count of 7-2.

Their set-piece was profoundly better and they won the tactical kicking duel comfortably through halfback Bryn Hall, Mo'unga and winger Israel Dagg.

With a scoreless second half, the visitors plunged to just their second loss in 12 games.

Source: AAP

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