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Crusaders score 4 tries, beat Highlanders 32-30 in Super Rugby

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DUNEDIN, New Zealand - A controversial call by the television match official allowed the Crusaders to cling to a 32-30 win over the Highlanders in Super Rugby on Saturday and to move temporarily to the top of the New Zealand conference.

TMO Vinny Munro ruled that Highlanders winger Patrick Osborne had grounded the ball on the touchline as he dived for what would have been the winning try in the last seconds of a thrilling match in which each side scored four tries.

Replays showed Osborne, who had already scored one try, forced the ball against the corner flag and that the try should stand, giving the Highlanders an outstanding come-from-behind win. But the decision, one of several that went in favour of the Crusaders on Saturday, undid one of the season's best comebacks.

The lead changed hands twice between two of the most closely-matched teams in the tournament before the Crusaders built an advantage they were just able to defend against a late Highlanders' fightback.

The Crusaders had started strongly, starving the Highlanders of possession and camping in opposition territory. Wingers Johnny McNicholl, with a knock on, and Nemani Nadolo, from a forward pass, were both denied tries before flanker Jordan Taufua put them ahead with 7-0 in the 11th minute.

The Highlanders rallied and tries to hooker Ged Robinson and Osborne, both scored while All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was in the sin bin and the Crusaders were down to 14 men, carried them to a 12-10 lead at halftime.

Tries to props Tim Perry and Nepo Laulala in the first 10 minutes of the second spell spurred the Crusaders to a 22-15 lead and a 64th minute try to winger Nemani Nadolo gave them a four-try bonus point and their largest margin at 29-18.

But once again the Highlanders fought back and, with tries to rising star Malakai Fekitoa and All Blacks fullback Ben Smith, they closed the gap to two points, 32-20, with seven minutes remaining.

The Highlanders then attacked the Crusaders line relentlessly through the final minutes of the match but were repulsed by ferocious and well-ordered defence.

The finally found a gap in the Crusaders' defensive wall in the 80th minute when a long pass gave Osborne a few meters of space on the left wing. He hurled himself at the goalline just as the tackle of fullback Israel Dagg dragged him towards the touchline.

Referee Glen Jackson referred the critical decision and the outcome of the match to Munro who, after studying several replays, ruled that Osborne had grounded the ball in touch. Replays left few doubts the ball had struck the corner flag first and that the try was therefore legitimate but Jackson sounded the final whistle.

The decision was in keeping with many in the match which went the way of the Crusaders, who were continually offside and who were allowed to kill Highlanders' ball throughout the match. McCaw's sin-binning in the 20th minute was the only sanction applied against the Crusaders for persistent infringement.

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Crusaders 32 (Jordan Taufua, Tim Perry, Nepo Laulala, Nemani Nadolo tries; Colin Slade 3 conversions, 2 penalties), Highlanders 30 (Ged Robinson, Patrick Osborne, Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith tries; Lima Sopoaga conversion, penalty; Hayden Parker conversion, penalty). HT: 10-12.

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