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The Canterbury Crusaders staged a thrilling comeback to defeat the Otago Highlanders 30-27 in a rollercoaster New Zealand Super Rugby derby in Dunedin on Saturday.

The Crusaders were down 27-6 early in the second half but clawed their way back and clinched victory with two late tries after Highlander Malakai Fekitoa was sinbinned.

They ended the match with four tries, while the Highlanders scored three, including two to Waisake Naholo.

The match between the South Island rivals was fiercely contested but error strewn, featuring no less than 35 turnovers.

The Crusaders dominated for long periods but were frustrated early before the pressure paid off at the death when Seta Tamanivalu scored with two minutes to go.

“The belief was always there, we knew we could do it if we stuck to our game plan,” Tamanivalu said.

The match began at a frantic pace, with the Crusaders relentless on attack but struggling to break through the solid Highlanders’ defence.

Possession was cheap as the ball regularly spilled in ferocious tackles and both teams resorted to tactical kicking in the search for space.

The score was 3-3 with a penalty apiece at 25 minutes until Gareth Evans broke the deadlock when the Highlanders caught the Crusaders napping with a long lineout throw.

Their defence was at fault again just before half time when Aaron Smith’s speculative kick found Waisake Naholo unmarked and free to cross for a try.

Naholo had his second six minutes after the restart when Lima Sopoaga’s chip kick released Fekitoa, whose perfectly timed offload found the giant winger as he charged for the line.

With the score threatening to blow out, the Crusaders thought they had scored twice but were denied both times by committed defence.

The Crusaders finally narrowed the gap when repeated infringements at the scrum from the Highlanders saw referee Paul Williams award them a seven-point penalty try.

The Crusaders began to gain momentum and fullback David Havili scored in the corner to make it 27-18 with 15 minutes to go.

Fekitoa was sinbinned for a dangerous tackle with seven minutes on the clock and the Crusaders made the most of the advantage with Whetu Douglas’ converted try making it 27-25.

With just two minutes left, Tamanivalu attacked down the same right-wing channel and again found a gap, sealing the last-gasp win.