The Crusaders inflicted more pain on the Highlanders after the visitors were beaten 24-8 in Christchurch – their eighth loss on the trot.
The Crusaders inflicted more pain on the hapless Highlanders after the visitors were beaten 24-8 in Christchurch – their eighth loss on the trot this season.
It was one-way traffic from start to finish and the home side never trailed as they bounced back from last week's shock defeat to the Force with a well-earned win played in difficult conditions.
It was the same old story for Jamie Joseph's side as they dished out another performance which will leave their coach aging at an alarming rate.
The win left the Crusaders with a 4-4 record midway through the regular season, to sit third in the New Zealand conference and ahead of only the Hurricanes and Highlanders.
The luckless Highlanders, wrecked by injuries, were also undone by a debilitating weakness at set-pieces. Their line-out was wretched and their scrum uncompetitive, allowing the Crusaders to build territorial advantage.
The Crusaders' game, however, was dull and directionless with flawed back play and tactical choices lacking in intuition.
They scored tries to centre Robbie Fruean late in the first half and replacement back Tom Taylor late in the second – separated by 36 minutes in which they attacked ineffectively. Both tries were awarded by the TMO – and both were dubious as no grounding could be seen.
Fruean scored immediately before half-time, providing a small reward for the Crusaders' relentless attack through the first 40 minutes. Fly-half Tyler Bleyendaal also kicked three penalties, giving the home side a 16-0 lead at the break.
The Highlanders began to win a sliver of possession at the start of the second spell and soon scored a try through centre Jason Emery. But Bleyendaal took the Crusaders further ahead with his first penalty, and Taylor scored the decisive try four minutes from full-time.
Tries: Fruean, Taylor
Pens: Bleyendaal 4
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Dominic Bird, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Tony Ensor, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 TJ Ioane, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (capt), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Jamie Mackintosh, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Fumiaka Tanaka, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Jake Paringatai.
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)