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Crusaders win electric Super Rugby season opener against Highlanders

Relive 1 NEWS' live updates of this evening's Super Rugby Aotearoa game between the Highlanders and Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

FT: HIG 13-26 CRU

Much like the rest of the night, the final pass can't stick for the Highlanders and the bonus point goes begging. Much better second half discipline-wise from the Crusaders but the Highlanders will know this is one they had a chance in.

That's it from us, enjoy your evening.

80min: HIG 13-26 CRU

CRU YELLOW! The hooter has gone but the Highlanders are playing this out chasing a bonus point. Nareki makes a break down the left wing and looks for support. Finds it in field but his target, Fakatava, is taken out without the ball by Barrett. Ref blows his whistle and sends the Crusaders skipper packing. Not the finish to his night he would've wanted but Highlanders still have a chance to get theirs with a lineout 5m out.

74min: HIG 13-26 CRU

CRU TRY! That will probably do it. Crusaders set the maul and power their way over to score.

72min: HIG 13-19 CRU

Highlanders becoming their own worst enemies with a penalty on halfway. Mo'unga kicks for the corner and it's a Crusaders lineout 10m from the Highlanders' line.

70min: HIG 13-19 CRU

10 minutes to go and Mo'unga is looking to control the game here. Chips for the corner once more and bounces it in to touch to pin down the Highlanders. Home side get the lineout just inside their own 22m.

68min: HIG 13-19 CRU

Highlanders go for a maul but it's all gone to custard. There's a pile of bodies as the maul hits the deck and the ball can't come out so it's a Crusaders scrum! Crusaders get away unscathed!

67min: HIG 13-19 CRU

Crusaders have given up two penalties and that prompts a warning from the ref. Highlanders kick for touch a third time and here comes another lineout.

66min: HIG 13-19 CRU

Josh Ioane has entered the game and instantly makes an impact. Sees space off the scrum and kicks one through. It's perfectly weighted and Mo'unga has no choice but to take it out or give up a try to the chasing Highlanders. Highlanders with a lineout 5m out.

64min: HIG 13-19 CRU

Another handling error. Crusaders get the ball off the dropout but cough it up two phases later. No advantage so Highlanders get a scrum 10m inside the Crusaders' half.

63min: HIG 13-19 CRU

CRU NO THREE! Mo'unga hooks it terribly so we'll have a 22m dropout. The Zoo lets out a roar as a fan favourite takes the pitch for the first time since 2019 - welcome back, Liam Squire!

62min: HIG 13-19 CRU

Highlanders clear but Crusaders power their way back into the Highlanders half. A run from Reece gets them to within 30m before a penalty advantage for offside is called. Mo'unga uses it as a chance to attempt a drop goal but misses to the right. Doesn't matter though; he'll come back for the three on offer from the penalty.

59min: HIG 13-19 CRU

The Crusaders' scrum strikes again! Highlanders pack buckles and there's a penalty. Third scrum penalty of the night earned by the Crusaders. Mo'unga finds touch on halfway with it. Shortly after the lineout, Mo'unga makes another great kick and bounce one into touch deep in Highlanders territory. Highlanders with a lineout 15m from their own line.

58min: HIG 13-19 CRU

And the chance goes begging as Coltman's first throw-in since replacing Dixon isn't straight. Crusaders get a scrum 10m from their line.

57min: HIG 13-19 CRU

Highlanders with a great attacking chance here as Taylor is penalised for playing the ball off his feet. Hunt kicks for the corner and it's a lineout 10m from the tryline.

55min: HIG 13-19 CRU

Commentator's curse. Crusaders come left off the scrum and the ball sails into touch. Highlanders lineout 10m inside the Crusaders' half.

54min: HIG 13-19 CRU

Crusaders clear but Hunt makes up for his last kick with a beauty here. No one at the back and he bounces it into touch 5m from the Crusaders line. Crusaders manage to win their lineout and clear for a Highlanders lineout of their own 35m from the Crusaders line but that attacking chance goes to waste with a knock on. Crusaders scrum now 10m from halfway. Both sides struggling to control the ball this half. Not sure why.

51min: HIG 13-19 CRU

Highlanders get the ball back on halfway soon after the restart. Smith goes high and Mo'unga comes forward to get it but he's misread it completely and it's gone to ground. The bounce leads to the Highlanders recovering it and they make their way within 10m of the Crusaders line. Ball comes to Hunt, he sees numbers on the left wing and kicks for the corner. He's overcooked the kick terribly and it sails out. Crusaders get a 22m dropout.

49min: HIG 13-19 CRU

CRU TRY! WHAT A FINISH FROM REECE! Crusaders hit the line off the lineout and come up short. Mo'unga tucks in behind the ruck and swings it back right to Reece. He's marked by prop Tokolahi who, to his credit, makes a superb tackle to bundle him into touch as he goes for the line but Reece gets an arm free to put the ball down. Ref goes upstairs to check if he's out first but he's got it down first. Great finish and awareness.

47min: HIG 13-14 CRU

Highlanders make their way towards halfway but it all comes undone with Frizell penalised for going off his feet in a cleanout. It could be very costly here with the Crusaders kicking for touch and getting a lineout 10m out.

45min: HIG 13-14 CRU

Sloppy ball from the Crusaders as it goes to ground multiple times. Mo'unga senses they're on the back foot and kicks one in behind the defensive line. Bounces in to touch and Highlanders are pinned down with a lineout 10m from their line.

43min: HIG 13-14 CRU

No mucking around from the Highlanders again. Smith with a great clear after the restart and Crusaders with a lineout 10m inside Highlanders territory.

42min: HIG 13-14 CRU

HIG THREE! Hunt slots it from 40m out and we have a one point game!

41min: HIG 10-14 CRU

GREAT first attacking chance for the Highlanders here as Mo'unga is penalised for getting back to his feet without releasing the ball as he tries to run it out from his 22m. It's kickable and that's what they opt for with Hunt grabbing the tee.

40min: HIG 10-14 CRU

Hunt gets us going and the second half is under way!

HT: HIG 10-14 CRU

That's halftime and what a thrilling open to the new season. Crusaders with all the control early but ill-discipline gave the Highlanders a window to get back into this one and they've done just that. Under the roof, both teams haven't been afraid to run with the ball here which has made for some exciting play.

No doubt for the Crusaders, Robertson will grill them about their discipline. Other than that, they've played well in this first half.

For the Highlanders, Brown will likely be concerned about the handling. A couple of knock ons at big moments despite prestine conditions under the roof.

Stay with us, the second 40 is coming up shortly!

38min: HIG 10-14 CRU

HIG TRY! That's a beauty from the Highlanders! Ball is in the midfield on halfway and Smith fires it right. The ball gets to Nareki and he gets outside his man into space down the wing. He's get one to beat with support, holds his pass til the last second then gives it to Gardon-Bachop who runs it in in the right corner. Hunt can't score this one either so Crusaders hold a four point lead.

35min: HIG 5-14 CRU

Reece shows some individual brilliance as he slices through two defenders before offloading to Moody. Moody runs into the Highlanders' 22m but gets cut down soon after. Highlanders swarm the ruck and get a penalty for not releasing! Highlanders clear and get a lineout on halfway.

33min: HIG 5-14 CRU

Crusaders make their way into the Highlanders 22m via the left wing but as they do, there's a knock on and the Highlanders get out of jail. Highlanders scrum just inside their 22m and the Highlanders opt to run instead of kick. The plan works perfectly as the Crusaders are caught out and the Highlanders bring it all the way into the Crusaders' territory down the left wing. The offload to keep the play going doesn't stick though and the Crusaders get a scrum. It's about 12m from halfway.

28min: HIG 5-14 CRU

No mucking around from the Highlanders on the restart. Set up their ruck, fire it back and clear for touch. Crusaders lineout 10m inside the Highlanders' half coming up.

26min: HIG 5-14 CRU

HIG TRY! It's taken a lifetime, but the Highlanders are finally in! Mikaele-Tu'u takes the ball from the back of the scrum to the right and goes down inches short. Smith is there quickly, recycles it and fires it back to the left to wing where Frizell is. He goes in practically untouched. Superb ball from Smith. Hunt can't add the extras from the sideline.

23min: HIG 0-14 CRU

Nowe we've got a Highlanders scrum after the Crusaders knock it on trying to take the ball. Zoo starting to find their voice again after being silenced by the two early tries. "Sweet Caroline" fills the stadium as the scrum 5m out sets. Crusaders set a 7-man scrum with no Blackadder on the pitch.

22min: HIG 0-14 CRU

CRU YELLOW! Blackadder heads to the bin! He was offside and after just being warned about it, ref has had enough. Highlanders turn down the three on offer yet again for another 5m lineout. You'd think they have to convert here for their own mentality.

21min: HIG 0-14 CRU

The Highlanders try another maul but once again the Crusaders shut it down. That works out in the end as the Crusaders give up another penalty and Barrett is called in for a word - too many penalties inside their 22m here. Highlanders use the penalty for another 5m linout. Here we go...

19min: HIG 0-14 CRU

Highlanders with another chance to respond here as once again the Crusaders cough up the ball after the restart and then make matters worse with a penalty for hands in the ruck. Highlanders know they need more than three points here and kick for the corner. Highlanders with a 5m lineout coming up.

18min: HIG 0-14 CRU

CRU TRY! The defending champs are in again! Beautiful set piece off the lineout puts Reece in space down the right wing. He reaches the 22m before the defence reaches him and Reece opts for the banana kick back in field. It bounces superbly and Hall recovers it and takes it in under the posts. Magic!

16min: HIG 0-7 CRU

The Highlanders are gifted a chance to respond straight away as the Crusaders lose the ball at kickoff. They work it in the middle of the field for a few phases and reach the Crusaders' 22m. But just as things look promising they go wide to the right and get isolated. Crusaders pile in and get the penalty for not releasing. Mo'unga kicks for touch and Crusaders get a lineout on halfway.

14min: HIG 0-7 CRU

CRU TRY! WHAT A FIRST TRY FOR THE SEASON! The Highlanders cough up the ball and the Crusaders set up on halfway. Ball comes to the middle of the field to Whitelock, he gives a short ball to Taylor and the hooker bursts through the Highlanders' line into the backfield. They won't catch him as he runs it all the way in to score under the posts! No better sight than a hooker runner at pace! Crusaders take the early lead.

11min: HIG 0-0 CRU

Crusaders look destined to store but a lob pass to the right wing is intercepted by Alaimalo on his 5m line! Crusaders are all over him but they've killed the ball in the process and are penalised! Highlanders clear and get a lineout on their 10m. At the lineout, the Crusaders are penalised yet again for offside! Highlanders kick once more and on two blows of the whistle, they've gone from their goal line to the Crusaders' 22m!

8min: HIG 0-0 CRU

After recovering a loose ball, the Highlanders immediately give it away again with a knock on and there's another scrum. Once again, that experience Canterbury pack puts the shove on and gets another penalty. Mo'unga kicks for the corner and the Crusaders with a big chance - 5m lineout coming up.

6min: HIG 0-0 CRU

The Highlanders earn a scrum after the Crusaders have too many at the lineout but that ends up working against them as the Crusaders earn a penalty by making the Highlanders pack crumble! Crusaders kick for touch and get a lineout on halfway.

4min: HIG 0-0 CRU

Highlanders set a maul but somehow it's the Crusaders who come away from the pile of bodies with the ball! They get it wide to the right wing and come out of the 22m. There's a kick ahead but it's out on the full! Highlanders lineout just outside the Crusaders' 22m.

3min: HIG 0-0 CRU

Fireworks early on here as Moody takes exception to being held on to by Regan as they peel off the lineout. He makes contact with the head trying to push him off with an open palm - not a punch - and the ref goes upstairs.

No card in it after a review but both captains brought in and told to settle their men. Still a Highlanders penalty so no doubt another 5m lineout coming.

2min: HIG 0-0 CRU

Highlanders clear early and Fihaki tries to respond with a kick of his own but it's not great. Highlanders attack and earn a penalty as Taylor is penalised for obstruction! Superb kick from Hunt and Highlanders with a big chance early! Lineout 7m from the Crusaders line.

7:05pm: KICKOFF

The hooter goes and Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 is underway with Mo'unga's kick!

7:00pm: PRE-MATCH

Nice touch from the Highlanders as Dixon gets to head on the field with his kids alone after earning his 100th cap last season away from home. The Zoo gives him a warm welcome and the rest of the team joins him soon after.

The Highlanders welcome the new season in with a new haka! Hautoa Kia Toa! The crowd are wild for it! Dixon and Smith lead as the co-captains. Crusaders receive it and we are all ready to go for this! What a start!

6:35pm: TEAMS UPDATE

A late change for the Crusaders and it's a biggie. Will Jordan is OUT! Replacing him at No.15 is Chay Fihaki on debut. Josh McKay comes on to the bench. No news yet on Jordan's reason for withdrawing.

6:30pm: PREVIEW

Sevu Reece scores against the Highlanders Source: Photosport

And just like that, we're back.

Super Rugby Aotearoa has been given a second season with Covid-19 still a global issue and it kicks off tonight with the Highlanders hosting the defending champions in the Crusaders in Dunedin.

One of the biggest headlines going into tonight's fixture is the fact that both sides have full access to their All Blacks and both have taken advantage with 12 of them named across the two sides.

Crusaders skipper Scott Barrett makes his return to the starting line-up after missing last year’s competition with a foot injury and will do so alongside Sam Whitelock while new All Black Cullen Grace gets the nod at No. 8.

The Crusaders will also get All Blacks experience in the front row from Codie Taylor at hooker and Joe Moody at loosehead prop while the backline also boasts plenty of talent with Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue and Richie Mo'unga set to give the Highlanders defence plenty to think about. 

The Highlanders on the other hand will look to co-captain Aaron Smith and blindside flanker Shannon Frizell for experience while Liam Coltman, Liam Squire and Josh Ioane will all aim to make an impact off the bench.

The Highlanders will also get to see how their new recruit, former Chiefs star Solomon Alaimalo, goes at No.15.

TEAMS

Highlanders: 15 Solomon Alaimalo, 14 Connor Garden-Bachop, 13 Ngantungane Punivai, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (cc), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jack Regan, 4 Josh Dickson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (cc), 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown

Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Hugh Renton

Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Dallas McLeod, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett (c), 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody

Replacements: 16 Brodie McAlister, 17 George Bower, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Sione Havili Talitui, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Fergus Burke, 23 Chay Fihaki