The Crusaders recovered from their loss to the Sharks by beating the Highlanders 30-32 with a bonus point at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
The victory provisionally moved the Crusaders to the top of the New Zealand Conference and the Highlanders two bonus points move them up to fourth place.The Chiefs provisionally drop from third place down to sixth place in the overall standings but they play the Hurricanes next and could move back up the standings. Both teams scored four tries each earning them both a bonus point but the Highlanders looked to have snatched the victory on full time when Patrick Osborne was tackled into the corner but the TMO disallowed the try as he was pushed into touch at the same time that he got the ball on to the try line.
The outcome of the match hinged on a video replay after Highlanders wing Patrick Osborne dived over in an Israel Dagg tackle after the final hooter. After multiple replays, the television match official ruled the ball had touched the sideline and tryline simultaneously and the try was disallowed leaving the Crusaders elated and the Highlanders distraught.
Both sides scored a four-try bonus point in the high-stakes encounter to remain in the top six with the Crusaders provisionally moving to the top of the New Zealand conference. It was a bitter end for the Highlanders who had produced two tries in the closing 12 minutes and Osborne’s final dive came at the end of three minutes of close-range charges which were held back by a desperate Crusaders defence.
Still smarting from their loss to the 14-man Sharks, the Crusaders rocked the Highlanders with a withering start that contained a venom that was lacking a week ago and it was only a matter of time before they scored. One try opportunity was wasted by a knock on, another was ruled out because of a forward pass before Jordan Taufua powered over to get the scoreboard moving.
But they could not sustain the pressure and when Richie McCaw was yellow-carded for a cynical ruck infringement, the Highlanders bounced back with two tries while the All Blacks skipper was off the field. Ged Robinson bagged the first, running off an Aaron Smith pass close to the line, and Osborne stepped around three hapless defenders in a burst down the left flank to score the second.
With Colin Slade slotting a penalty just before half-time for the Crusaders, the Highlanders led 12-10 at the turn. The Crusaders regained the lead immediately after the resumption with a Tim Perry try after big Fijian wing Nemani Nadolo cut through the Highlanders defence in one of his many productive runs in the match.
But every time the Crusaders looked as if they were about to open up a big lead the Highlanders came back at them. After converted tries to Nepo Laulala and Nadolo and a penalty to Colin Slade the Crusaders had completed their scoring with 10 minutes remaining.
The Highlanders, meanwhile, slowly gathered steam with penalties to Lima Sopoaga and Hayden Parker and tries by Malakai Fekitoa and Ben Smith to close within two points when Osborne was denied his try at the end.
Final Score Highlanders 30 (12) Crusaders 32 (10)
Tries – G.Robinson, P.Osborne, M.Fekitoa, B.Smith
Pen – L.Sopoaga, H.Parker
Con – L.Sopoaga, H.Parker
Tries – J. Taufua, T.Perry, N. Laulala, N. Nadolo
Pen – C.Slade 2
Con – C.Slade 3
Cards – R.McCaw (21st min yellow)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 1: Garratt Williamson.
Assistant Ref 2: Ben O’Keeffe
TMO: Vinny Munro.