Crusaders lift Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa trophy

The Crusaders have won Super Rugby Aotearoa with a round to spare despite the best efforts of the Highlanders.

The three-time defending Super Rugby champions have lifted the Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa trophy in front of their home fans after beating their southern neighbours 32-22 in Christchurch.

The Crusaders scored three unanswered tries in the last 20 minutes, having trailed 22-13 midway through the second-half and 17-13 at halftime.

It's their 11th Super Rugby title in total and ends the title hopes of the Blues and Hurricanes, who can now finish no higher than second.

"It's huge. We knew this type of competition was a little bit different and it was never going to be easy," Crusaders captain Codie Taylor told Sky Sport.

"The Highlanders came up here and put on a good show and we had our backs against the wall. But full credit to the full squad coming on and finishing the job.

"I think that's the great thing about this team anyone in this squad can deliver and that's what's happened tonight.

"We viewed this game as a final. We know the situation with next week as well but we knew we could come home and do our fans proud...we'd get the job done and get the chance to lift the trophy."

The Highlanders appeared determine to crash their rivals' party and inform loose forward Shannon Frizell had got them off to the perfect start, crossing to the right of the uprights after just a minute.

The southerners were back inside the Crusaders' 22 just moments later and were only denied a second try by some desperate defence from opposition openside Tom Christie.

After a sluggish start the Crusaders roared into life in the 13th minute when Richie Mo'unga dotted down under the posts, after breaking out from inside their half.

Jona Nareki scored a near length-of-the-field try from an intercept in the 22nd minute to keep the Highlanders in front and Ioane stretched their lead to 10 points with a sideline conversion.

Mo'unga kicked two penalties to cut the deficit to just four points at halftime.

The Crusaders started the brighter of the two sides after halftime and Bryn Hall should have scored a try in the 46th minute after a trademark counter-attack.

But he was denied by Highlanders winger Josh McKay, who dislodged the ball from Hall's grasp as he dove over the line.

The Highlanders came up with a couple more big plays inside their 22 before taking advantage of a rare foray into the Crusaders' half to score in the 54th minute through Michael Collins.

That put the southerners up 22-13, but as often been the case the Crusaders jumped into another gear in the final 10 minutes.

George Bridge scored two tries in four minutes from thrilling counter-attacks to give the defending champions a 25-22 lead before Crusaders centre Braydon Ennor sealed the result with a try in the 75th minute.