Highlanders, Crusaders win in Super Rugby Pacific

March 31, 2023 GMT

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — The Dunedin, New Zealand-based Highlanders dominated the second half after a tight and high-scoring first half to beat Moana Pasifika 45-17 on Friday in a sixth-round match in Super Rugby Pacific.

In the late match, the Christchurch, New Zealand-based Crusaders beat the Queensland Reds 25-12, the defending champion’s 12th consecutive win over the Brisbane side.

The Highlanders and Pasifika went to the break with the Highlanders leading 19-17 after a half which saw five tries, three to the Highlanders. The Highlanders extended their lead with four more tries in the second half and now have won three straight matches after starting the season with three defeats.

“Three wins in a row, that’s awesome,” Highlanders captain Billy Harmon said. “We had a slow start but we knew that we were right there, we knew that we were going to build and our performances are just getting better and better. We’ve got belief in our game and it’s awesome to see.”

Moana Pasifika opened the scoring with a try in the fifth minute to Solomone Funaki. The ball first went out to the left flank where winger Miracle Faiilagi ran strongly, then traveled back across the field for Funaki to score on the right.

The Highlanders hit back quickly with a try to Pari Pari Parkinson from a lineout. Hugh Renton carried the ball in a looping run round the back and Parkinson had the strength to drive into a gap and score.

Fullback Sam Gilbert ran into the backline and through stretched defense to extend the Highlanders’ lead to 12-7 before Moana Pasifika again went ahead with a try to Levi Aumua who carried the ball strongly through tackles near the line.

Renton scored in the 26th minute to put the Highlanders ahead 19-14 and Moana Pasifika narrowed the lead before halftime with a penalty to Lincoln McClutchie.

The Highlanders had a strong second half with good phase play and one-off running among the forwards. The Moana Pasifika defense often was stretched by the serial nature of the attacks.

After strong lead-up play by Renton, Fetuli Paea scored in the the 51st minute and Folau Fakatava set up a try for Mosese Dawai with a dummy half and inside pass from scrumhalf.

Marino Makaele-Tu’u and Thomas Umaga-Jensen scored before the end of the match as the Highlanders secured a bonus-point win.

At Brisbane, the Crusaders led 15-7 at halftime when two line breaks through the center of the Reds’ defense led to tries to Leicester Fainga’anuku and Dom Gardiner. Willi Heinz scored first after the break for the Crusaders.

The last time the Reds beat the Crusaders was the Super Rugby final in Brisbane in 2011.

“It was a bit scrappy for our liking. We spoke all week about the significance of playing at a stadium with great history, some of the greatest (State of) Origin games,” Crusaders playmaker Richie Mo’unga said.

The Crusaders improved to 4-2 and the Reds dropped to 2-4.

“We’re just not respecting the ball. We’re stuck in a bit of a cycle at the moment and I don’t know what to say,” Reds co-captain Tate McDermott said.


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