Crusaders and Highlanders to meet in delayed derby

Semisi Masirewa of the Sunwolves dives over to score a try against the Melbourne Rebels during their Super Rugby match in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, April 6, 2019. (Hamish Blair/AAP Image via AP)

Crusaders and Highlanders to meet in delayed Super Rugby derby

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The Christchurch-based Crusaders and Dunedin-based Highlanders will meet for the first time this Super Rugby season on Friday, a month after the first scheduled meeting was abandoned in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks.

The Crusaders and Highlanders were due to meet in Dunedin on March 16 but a day earlier a gunman opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, killing 50 people and wounding dozens more.

The teams conferred and agreed in consultation with New Zealand Rugby and security officials that the match couldn't go ahead; instead, the teams received two points each and the highly-anticipated South Island derby was delayed.

The first meeting between the teams will now occur in Christchurch in the ninth round of the season, with the Crusaders firmly in first spot in the New Zealand conference and the Highlanders in fourth place, 15 points behind.

The intervening weeks have been testing for both teams. The Crusaders had to wait eight days for their first match after the mosque attacks and sustained their first loss in more than a year to the New South Wales Waratahs on a rainy night in Sydney. They have since beaten the Hurricanes and ACT Brumbies to start a new winning streak.

The Highlanders have had a tougher time, losing narrowly to the Auckland-based Blues and Wellington-based Hurricanes. They were in a winning position in both of those matches but were denied by late scores.

Had the first match between the Highlanders and Crusaders taken place as scheduled, it might have been an advantage to the Highlanders. It would have been their home game and played under the roof at the Dunedin stadium which would ensure conditions to suit their free-flowing game.

Friday's game is likely to be played in wet and wintry conditions in Christchurch, something neither side is likely to relish. The Crusaders were found out in the wet when they played the Waratahs and, while there were several factors in their defeat, they will be eager to show as winter sets in that they are not vulnerable in the wet.

"We've taken a lot of learnings from the Waratahs week," Crusaders scrumhalf Bryn Hall said. "We were pretty disappointed with the performance we put.

"We went bone deep with our preparation and detail around getting that right and I think the last couple of games we've rectified that. Every time (the Highlanders) come here it's a tough encounter. It's supposed to be forecast for a bit of rain so I'm guessing it's going to be a nice physical challenge on Friday night."

The resurgent Blues, who have won four matches in a row for the first time since 2013, face the Chiefs in Hamilton.

In other matches in round nine, Australian conference leaders the Melbourne Rebels host the Cape Town-based Stormers, the Brumbies meet the Johannesburg-based Lions, the Sharks play the Jaguares in an African conference derby and the Pretoria-based Bulls meet the Queensland Reds.

The Waratahs, Hurricanes and Japan's Sunwolves have weekend byes.

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