Crusaders' coach Todd Blackadder won't be making an official complaint about the farcical time-keeping at Dunedin's indoor stadium last night (Saturday), but called the situation "unacceptable" and "amateurish".
The Highlanders were the ones celebrating a 27-24 victory in front of a full house of 23,600 but both sets of teams were left bemused by the scoreboard clock which was running more than three minutes fast.
Colin Slade, who came on as a second-half replacement, kicked the ball backwards into touch at what he thought was fulltime and was then horrified to see the assistant referee award the Crusaders a lineout. Referee Jaco Peyper then told the players there were three minutes left.
From the lineout, Tyler Bleyendaal missed with a low-percentage drop goal attempt and the Highlanders effectively ran down the clock for a deserved win.
Bleyendaal had earlier taken a long-range penalty shot unaware there were more than five minutes left.
Blackadder said the clock issue wasn't to blame for his side's loss but it was an unsatisfactory end to what until then had been an excellent match.
"It's not good enough, is it?" Blackadder said. "It was very amateurish in what is a professional game."
The Crusaders' coach put the main reason for defeat down to a lack of mental application.
"We weren't there mentally. We just didn't turn up. I thought they outmuscled us at the breakdown and we probably deserved what we got, to be honest."
The Crusaders' defence in particular was disappointing for Blackadder who watched as the Highlanders consistently made the advantage line and penetrated far too easily.
The Crusaders controlled things in the first half - certainly they were enjoyed a big territorial advantage - and when a slick midfield move from Robbie Fruean and Matt Todd put Israel Dagg over they took charge of the scoreboard too.
However, the Highlanders struck straight back through Andrew Hore, and Phil Burleigh's try in the corner right on halftime put the score out to 20-10 and hurt the Crusaders.
Second-five Burleigh, a Cantabrian, expecting to start the season as a wider training group member of the Chiefs before an extremely late call-up from the Highlanders, has had a whirlwind last few weeks, first scoring against his old team in Hamilton last weekend and dotting down against some of his old mates.
The Crusaders brought a harder edge to their play in the second half, narrowing the gap through Bleyendaal's penalty and a try to Andy Ellis, who scored while being twisted into an awkward head-stand.
Bleyendaal missed the handy conversion attempt but two more penalties gave his side a handy 24-20 lead before Hosea Gear brushed past Sean Maitland to score a try well converted by Lima Sopoaga.
Confusion reigned in the final few moments but the Highlanders are now two from two, while the Crusaders, who snuck a one-point win over the Blues, must quickly improve before facing the Chiefs in a Napier "home" game.
"We're not pushing the panic button yet," said Blackadder. "We have five points from two away games and we know what we have to do against the Chiefs."
Chiefs v Blues
While the Highlanders were the feel-good story of the round following the Otago Rugby Union financial crisis, the Chiefs pulled off the upset of the weekend when beating the Blues in Hamilton 29-14.
The match was effectively over at halftime following a first-half blitz which reaped the home side 29 points. The Blues began their travels to South Africa on Saturday contemplating games against the Bulls in Pretoria and Stormers in Cape Town with only one - bonus - point to their name.
Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow was the standout for the Chiefs, who brushed off their early-season injury problems and doubts about their tight five, to dominate the Blues.
The Blues' defeat was compounded by a shoulder injuries to wing Rudi Wulf, who is expected to be out of action for between three to four weeks, and No8 Jerome Kaino.
Kaino will be monitored and could fly to Africa later next week in preparation for the Stormers match on March 17.
Hurricanes v Crusaders 24
In Johannesburg the Hurricanes survived a comeback from the Lions to win 30-28, with rookie first-five Beauden Barrett again the hero when kicking a late penalty.
Highlanders 27 (Andrew Hore, Phil Burleigh, Hosea Gear, tries; Lima Sopoaga 2 pens, 3 cons.) Crusaders 24 (Israel Dagg, Andy Ellis; Tyler Bleyendaal 4 pens, con.) HT: Highlanders 20-10.
Chiefs 29 (Sona Taumalolo, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Tawera Kerr Barlow, Tim Nanai-Williams, tries; Aaron Cruden 3 cons, pen). Blues 14 (Sherwin Stowers try; Michael Hobbs 3 pens). HT: 29-6.
Hurricanes 30 (Andre Taylor, Dane Coles, Cory Jane, tries; Beauden Barrett 5 pens). Lions 28 (Jaco Taute, Franco van der Merwe, Butch James tries; Elton Jantjies 2 cons, 2 pens, Taute pen). HT: Hurricanes 14-8.