By Eugene Bingham

DUNEDIN - Gate-crashers turned up at Tony Brown's place yesterday.

The Otago Highlanders' first five-eighths was supposed to be celebrating a Super 12 rugby championship - until party-poopers in red and black stole the show.

Pre-match advertising for the game at Carisbrook played on another recent advertising campaign, posters around Dunedin declaring: "Party at Tony Brown's Place."


But it was the Canterbury Crusaders who were rejoicing last night after beating off their southern neighbours, 24-19.

After surrendering a halftime lead, the Highlanders fought to stay within striking distance. With three minutes to go, an Isitola Maka try gave them the chance they were looking for - if Brown could convert, the Highlanders would have been within three points.

"It was a crucial kick, but I just didn't hit it very well and didn't read it well at all," the 24-year-old said last night.

The kick skewed left, and the Highlanders were unable to steal the victory their fans dreamed of.

"In the end, it was not as good a party as we wanted," said Brown, his blond mop-haired head hanging down in disappointment.

While delighted with the Carisbrook support, Brown admitted the ad campaign had put extra pressure on him during the match buildup.

"It was just a bit of a laugh, but it got a bit out of hand.

"There's no crowd like a Carisbrook crowd. We've got such good support, but you can't let it get to you."

The Crusaders secured their second consecutive Super 12 title, equalling the feat of the Auckland Blues team of 1996-1997, despite finishing fourth at the end of pool play in the competition.

Jubilant fans painted Dunedin red before driving north to greet the team when they return to Christchurch.

Captain Todd Blackadder will lead his side through the streets in a midday victory parade organised - and advertised - in cocky Canterbury style last week.