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Highlanders hold off Crusaders in Dunedin


The Highlanders have gone a long way toward securing a Super Rugby Pacific quarterfinals berth, while sinking the Crusaders.


First-five Cam Millar accounted for 27 points as the Highlanders heaped more misery on the struggling defending champion Crusaders, winning 32-29 at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night.


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It was the Highlanders' first victory over a New Zealand franchise (not including Auckland-based Moana Pasifika) since 2021, ending a 19-match losing streak. It was also the Highlanders' first win over the Crusaders since 2021.


The three-point victory, the Highlanders' fifth in 11 matches, kept them in seventh with 23 points, eight ahead of the ninth-placed Western Force with three rounds remaining in the regular season.


Millar opened the scoring with a penalty, then the Highlanders benefitted from some fortune, with centre Tanielu Tele'a scoring from long-range for a 10-0 lead after seven minutes.


Halfback Folau Fakatava was yellow-carded minutes later for a ruck infringement despite looking like he had secured the Highlanders a penalty. The Crusaders scored twice, through wing Sevu Reece and second-five Dallas McLeod, while a man up to go ahead 14-13.


Highlanders Super Rugby Pacific rugby
The Highlanders defeated the Crusaders for the first time since 2021. PHOTO: SUPER RUGBY

Fakatava returned to the field and set up Millar for a try, before the No 10 added two penalties before halftime, with the home side leading 26-14.


Chay Fihaki set up Reece was his second soon after the resumption, while Fihaki booted a penalty in the 52nd minute to cut the gap to four points.


Millar kicked his fifth and sixth penalties in the final 10 minutes to make it a two-possession game, before being yellow-carded for being offside in added-time. Reserve wing Macca Springer scored the final try to earn the Crusaders a bonus point.


Next week, the Highlanders (5-0-6, 23 points) face the table-topping Blues (10-0-1, 45 points) at Eden Park on Saturday (kick-off 7.05pm), while the Crusaders (2-0-9, 14 points) will try to keep their top-eight hopes alive against the ACT Brumbies (9-0-2, 39 points) in Canberra earlier that day (kick-off 4.35pm NZ Time).


Also on Saturday night, the Brumbies defeated the NSW Waratahs 29-21 in Sydney to remain third, and the Western Force rolled the Fijian Drua 48-10 in Perth. The Queensland Reds held off the Melbourne Rebels 26-22 in Brisbane on Friday night and have now secured a spot in the playoffs.


Highlanders 32 (Tanielu Tele'a, Cam Millar tries; Cam Millar 2 con, 6 pen) Crusaders 29 (Sevu Reece 2, Dallas McLeod, Macca Springer tries; Chay Fihaki 3 con, pen). HT: 26-14

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