The Highlanders threatened to shake up the Crusaders' plans to seal the Super Rugby Aotearoa title this afternoon in Christchurch, leading their southern neighbours 17-13 at half-time in the local derby.
But in several sensational passages of play from both teams the Crusaders came back to end on a 32-22 high-note and re-start the deserved celebrations.
First -half highlights included a scintillating 70-metre dash by Highlanders wing Jona Nareki for his team's second try of the half.
WHAT A FOOT RACE! @Highlanders winger Jona Nareki has some GAS 💨— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) August 9, 2020
📽️: @skysportnz #CRUvHIG pic.twitter.com/gEl8EEj0Lm
The Highlanders kept up their efforts to spoil the Crusaders party in the second half, with wing Josh McKay making a breathtaking covering run to sensationally rob Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall of the ball just as he was about to dive for the try.
Josh McKay is a thief in the night 😵— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) August 9, 2020
📽️: @skysportnz #CRUvHIG pic.twitter.com/12jnzPB7mW
The Crusaders had their own bag of tricks up their sleeves though, springing back to life with two quick tries to outside back George Bridge to finally go in front of the Highlanders 25-22 with a quarter of an hour to go.
The @crusadersrugby are back (as expected)!— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) August 9, 2020
Thrilling last 10 minutes in Christchurch coming up, catch it all live on @skysportnz.#CRUvHIG pic.twitter.com/hi5VyCA5av
The Crusaders closed out the game and got the party re-started though after Braydon Ennor went over for a try in the closing minutes for a 10 point lead and a 32-22 title-winning victory.
Last time the two teams met, the Crusaders crushed their southern neighbours 40-20 in Dunedin. However, despite the margin of loss, the Highlanders kept up with the men in red and black for the majority of the game.
The Highlanders went into the game after a disappointing home loss to the Blues 21-32 last weekend.
The Crusaders brushed aside the Chiefs 32-19 in Hamilton last week and are overwhelming favourites to add another title to the trophy cabinet today.
Can @CrusadersRugby make history today or will @Highlanders defy the odds?— Super Rugby (@SuperRugbyNZ) August 8, 2020
🏉 #CRUvHIG pic.twitter.com/YxgJj6qOOu
However, the Hurricanes have done the unimaginable and beaten the Crusaders 34-32 in Christchurch this season so all is not lost for the Highlanders.
In fact, Crusaders player Richie Mo’unga has told Stuff that the team are not taking the game lightly for this very reason.
"Our preparation is thorough, it’s genuine, it’s bone deep. Because I know last time we played out in front of our people we let them down."
Kick-off is at 3.05 pm at the sold-out Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch.
1. Joe Moody 2. Codie Taylor © 3. Michael Alaalatoa 4. Samuel Whitelock 5. Quinten Strange 6. Tom Sanders 7. Tom Christie 8. Whetukamokamo Douglas (vc) 9. Bryn Hall 10. Richie Mo’unga 11. George Bridge 12. Jack Goodhue (vc) 13. Braydon Ennor 14. Sevu Reece 15. Will Jordan
Reserves: 16. Andrew Makalio 17. George Bower 18. Oliver Jager 19. Luke Romano 20. Sione Havili 21. Mitchell Drummond 22. Brett Cameron 23. Leicester Fainga’anuku
1. Ayden Johnstone 2. Ash Dixon (cc) 3. Jeff Thwaites 4. Pari Pari Parkinson 5. Jack Whetton 6. Shannon Frizell 7. Dillon Hunt 8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u 9. Aaron Smith (cc) 10. Josh Ioane 11. Jona Nareki 12. Patelesio Tomkinson 13. Michael Collins 14. Josh McKay 15. Mitch Hunt
Reserves: 16. Liam Coltman 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown 18. Siate Tokolahi 19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit 20. Jesse Parete 21. Folau Fakatava 22. Ngatungane Punivai 23. Teariki Ben-Nicholas