VIDEO: Mo’unga masterclass sends Crusaders into semis
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: Richie Mo’unga scored 23 points to help the Crusaders smash the Highlanders 38-14 in their Super Rugby quarterfinal in Christchurch on Friday.
Up just 17-14 at the break, the implacable Crusaders sensed blood when Highlanders forward Liam Squire spent time in the sinbin, bagging two quick tries to effectively book another semifinal berth.
The eighth-ranked Highlanders were all aggression early but were barely in the contest against the top qualifiers as the match wore on, failing to handle the intense pressure up front from a team chasing their third straight title.
The Crusaders will host the winner of Saturday’s Hurricanes-Bulls quarterfinal in Wellington.
They will be hotly favoured if their All Blacks-laden forward contingent play with the same muscle and Mo’unga with the same class.
Captain Sam Whitelock said the next visitors to Christchurch can expect the same methodology from his team.
“We want to pressure every team right across the board so obviously it starts and finishes at set-piece for us as forwards,” he said.
“Finals are always tough and against your neighbour just amplifies it.
“Man, we were pushed early, pushed late, so full credit to the Highlander boys.”
Winger Sio Tomkinson’s try had the Highlanders 7-3 up through the opening quarter but the hosts leapt clear when Mo’unga put fullback David Havili across and then scored himself after some skilful Crusaders offloads.
The Highlanders pulled the margin back to three after Teihorangi Walden slid through off a bullet pass from Aaron Smith.
A key moment was the yellow card shown to All Blacks flank Squire for a no-arms tackle on opposite Whetukamokamo Douglas soon after half-time.
The clinical Crusaders took advantage of the extra number with big drives to set up tries for Douglas and Michael Alaalatoa.
Mo’unga scored from a chip and chase to ice his team’s 28th straight win in Christchurch.
More pertinently, they have never lost a home finals match since the competition’s inception in 1996.
The match marked the end of notable Super Rugby careers for six Highlanders.
All Blacks Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Luke Whitelock, Squire, Tom Franklin and Jackson Hemopo are all moving to offshore clubs next year.
Luke Whitelock said the build-up had been an emotional one for the departing players but they couldn’t lift when needed against the Crusaders juggernaut.
“They’re very good at what they do and they just execute it well,” he said.
“They have the ability to score a couple of tries pretty quickly and they punished us in a couple of minutes to change that pressure.”
Man of the match: Richie Mo’unga was simply outstanding in open play and he scored two tries as well. He had a hand in a few other scores as well and his kicking game was excellent.
Tries: Havili, Mo’unga 2, Douglas, Alaalatoa
Cons: Mo’unga 5
Tries: Tomkinson, Walden
Cons: Ioane 2
Yellow card: Liam Squire (Highlanders, 45 – foul play, tackle with no arms)
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Patelesio Tomkinson, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Dillon Hunt 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Elliot Dixon.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)