Another stunning derby, another loss for the Crusaders and another reason to believe that Super Rugby is recovering its allure after two dreadful years.

This was rugby as everyone believes it should be played. It was thrilling for the duration. Fast and furious; not always polished, but the rough edges only added to the charm.

The Highlanders win out because they surged in that critical last 15 minutes. They had what it took – both physically and mentally – to stay in top gear in that final quarter and it was enough to enable them to win two kickable penalties and find the daylight they needed on the scoreboard.

It was perhaps ironic that such an open game was decided in the end by goal kicks – especially as both teams had previously turned down so many shots earlier in the game.


But by 65 minutes, it was apparent that the teams were so evenly balanced and the game so tight, that three points were going to be crucial.

It was a victory the Highlanders deserved on the basis they had probably controlled the game better and for longer periods. It was also perhaps just that Tevita Li, who had been sensational, should find himself on the winning team.

The Crusaders will hardly think so as they have now lost two on the trot for the first time since 2015.

They shouldn't be too despondent, however, as losing two New Zealand derbies away from home doesn't spell disaster.

And they hardly played badly in Dunedin. They more than contributed helping to make it fairly obvious why everyone loves these local derbies, especially the all South Island affair.

These two produce quite ridiculously entertaining rugby – have been doing it for years now – and it drags the neutral in.

How could it not? The pace was frenetic. The excitement endless and the commitment were quite compelling.

This was a game that never relented. The fizz never fizzled and even after 70 energy-sapping minutes of highly aerobic, physical rugby, both teams were still flying into each other and desperate.

Both sides were anxious to find space, to keep probing and nudging when they had the ball, while defensively, there was crunch and power across the field.

Luke Whitelock may not be everybody's cup of tea at No 8 but there aren't many players in the country, world rugby even, who land more consistent big tackles than he does.

He was quite awesome on defence for the Highlanders and he set the tone. Liam Squire and Liam Coltman weren't so far behind and there were plenty of men in red jerseys tackling just as hard.

The bigger weapon for the Crusaders, though, was their craft at the breakdown where they were uncannily good at isolating the ball carrier and stealing possession.

Matt Todd was his usual brilliant self in that regard and his contribution at critical times was priceless.

The power of the tackling and the intensity and speed of it all meant there were plenty of thrills and spills and much of the first half was punctuated with penalties and turnovers.

It made for some incredible passages – some of which were almost two minutes long, where the ball would go from one end of the field to the other.

There were pockets of breathtaking rugby in these blasts – some freakishly good skills on view only for a wild pass or poor handling to blight everything and set the other team going the other way.

The Crusaders perhaps best showed that was possible if the composure and accuracy could be held for long enough.

Early in the second half they needed to score next to stay in touch and somehow from a turnover, managed to pop five passes out of contact, gather Manasa Mataele's chip ahead and score under the posts.

Highlanders 25 (L. Coltman, L. Sopoaga, E. Dixon tries; L. Sopoaga 2 pen, 2 cons)
Crusaders 17 (G. Bridge, B. Hall tries; M. Hunt pen, 2 cons)