Winger Waisake Naholo and center Matt Faddes scored two tries each as the Highlanders took a bonus point from a 34-26 win over the Crusaders in Super Rugby on Friday.
Faddes was one of the main architects of the victory, repeatedly splitting the Crusaders’ midfield defense to score or create opportunities for Naholo, who has touched down four times in two matches since returning from a broken leg.
In the opening minutes, the Christchurch-based Crusaders enjoyed an overwhelming share of possession and relentlessly battered the Highlanders’ line. But the Highlanders turned the match between the 19th and 51st minutes.
“I think in that first 20 minutes they put us under a bit of pressure and were probably a wee bit unlucky not to score a couple of tries,” Highlanders captain Ben Smith said. “But I’m really proud of the way we reacted to that and we managed to get back into the game nicely.”
While the Crusaders have won eight matches in a row, they have been favored by an easy draw and Friday’s match was their first against a New Zealand opponent since the second round.
“I think we probably let our foot off the throat just when we were on top, but they’re a quality side,” Crusaders captain Kieran Read said.
Later at Melbourne, the ACT Brumbies provisionally moved four points clear in first place in the Australian conference with a 30-22 win over the Rebels.
Winger Nigel Ah Wong scored in the right corner with about eight minutes remaining to clinch a five-try win for the Brumbies.
“We knew it would be a tough match coming in here, particularly with the shape of the ladder,” ACT captain Stephen Moore said. “We tried to attack and stick to our game plan, and for the most part, it came off.”
The second-place New South Waratahs host South Africa’s Bulls on Saturday in Sydney. The Rebels are in third place, two points behind the Waratahs.