Crusaders extend Super Rugby streak with 14th straight win

By The Associated Press ,

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Wyatt Crockett of the Crusaders celebrates. Super Rugby match, Crusaders v Highlanders at AMI Stadium, Christchurch.

Wyatt Crockett of the Crusaders celebrates. Super Rugby match, Crusaders v Highlanders at AMI Stadium, Christchurch. (Photo: photosport.nz)

Replacement flyhalf Mitch Hunt kicked a dropped goal three minutes after the end of regulation time to give the Crusaders a 25-22 win over the Highlanders in Super Rugby on Saturday, extending their winning streak to a record 14 matches without a loss this season.

Hunt went from hero to villain to hero again in the final minutes of a thrilling match when he first kicked a penalty to tie the score at 22-22, then missed another a minute from fulltime on his home ground at Christchurch, New Zealand.

That seemed likely to end both the Crusaders' winning streak at a club- and tournament-record 13 matches and the Highlanders' own winning streak at a club-record 10 games.

But the Crusaders managed to hold the ball through 19 phases after the final siren until Hunt snapped his dropped goal from 40 meters that fell just over the crossbar.

Early in the second half, the Highlanders seemed headed for a victory that would have extended their own winning streak and allowed them to become the first team this season to beat the Crusaders.

All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo scored two tries as the Highlanders rallied from 19-10 at halftime to lead 22-19 only 10 minutes into the second half. But several sloppy plays by the Highlanders gave the Crusaders a chance to come back.

Hunt tied the score at 22-22 with a penalty kick in the 75th. He then had a chance to seal the win four minutes later, but pushed his second penalty kick just wide of the uprights.

"It's just one of those South Island games," Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock said of the rivalry between the two southern New Zealand squads. "Both sides are going to be very, very sore tomorrow, but we'll get together after this and stay tight."

Tries by scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond and winger Seta Tamanivalu gave the Crusaders a 12-0 lead after 15 minutes.

Richard Buckman scored the first try for the Highlanders to cut the lead to 12-7, but Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, who was shown a yellow card in the 25th minute, returned from the sin-bin to score a try and give the Crusaders a nine-point lead at the break.

The match brought further injury concerns for the All Blacks ahead of their three-test series against the British and Irish Lions when Highlanders fullback Ben Smith and Crusaders center Ryan Crotty left the field. Smith, the All Blacks vice-captain, did not return after a concussion test, while Crotty, the inside center, suffered a rib injury.

Also on Saturday, winger James Lowe scored three tries and scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow scored two as the Hamilton-based Chiefs defeated the New South Wales Waratahs 46-31.

Lowe scored his first try in the 31st minute as the Chiefs took an 18-3 lead at halftime. He added a second try and Kerr-Barlow scored his first as the home side then blew out the lead to 32-3 four minutes into the second half.

The Waratahs rallied to cut the lead to 39-31 with a runaway try by tighthead prop Sekope Kepu with six minutes to play, but Lowe's final try sealed the win for the Chiefs.

At Canberra, Australia, the ACT Brumbies clinched first place in a mediocre Australian conference by beating the Melbourne Rebels 32-3. The Brumbies won only their sixth of 13 matches, but that's good enough in an Australian group where no teams have winning records.

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