The Crusaders put in a performance of potential champions on Friday as they hammered holders the Chiefs 43-15 at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
These two sides rarely produce dull encounters and their fifth meeting in the space of a year did not disappoint as the Crusaders took the spoils.
Leading 19-8 at half-time courtesy of Dan Carter's boot and a 40th minute score from Kieran Read - who was returning from his international exploits - Todd Blackadder's men were deserving of the win. In fact, they produced an effort low on errors and high in intensity and quality in Christchurch.
The Chiefs meanwhile, who only need one point to secure the summit spot in the New Zealand conference, struggled without the likes of Ben Afeaki, non-starter Tim Nanai-Williams and Liam Messam. Messam was a late withdrawal due to an injury he picked up in the gym in the week.
In contrast, Read's return was just as apparent on Friday as the Crusaders began strongly when Ryan Crotty hit a solid line in midfield, which led to Dan Carter knocking over three points before he doubled the advantage with nine minutes gone. The Chiefs were struggling to keep pace.
Aaron Cruden did respond for the visitors as he knocked over three points of his own from 40 metres out with 11 minutes played, but the error count was totting up for the men from Waikato. That subsequently allowed in-form All Blacks fly-half Carter to make it 9-3.
One player also finding form at just the right time ahead of the Super Rugby play-offs and the Rugby Championship is Israel Dagg, with the full-back putting in one of his strongest showings of 2013. He would move up through the gears in the second stanza too.
The Crusaders were 12-3 up when the Chiefs managed to temporarily halt the momentum, Asaeli Tikoirotuma scoring following great work from Cruden to get them within five metres. Tawera Kerr-Barlow's intelligent cross-field kick from the recycled ball led to the grounding.
However, the Crusaders would respond at the perfect moment as Read's pick up from the base led to the number eight scoring following TMO approval. The successful conversion from Carter sent the Crusaders in at the break with a decent eleven-point cushion.
The second-half would see the Crusaders move up another gear as they went over for five superb tries that keeps alive their slim hopes of topping the New Zealand conference.
It took them just over a minute before Dagg would cross as the hosts capitalised on centre Bundee Aki's spillage and promptly went to the right side where the full-back glided over.
Dagg would turn provider on 45 minutes when he set up Read on the left touchline, with Carter's unsuccessful conversion leaving the scores now up at 31-8 in Christchurch.
Things would not improve for the Crusaders when Ryan Crotty finished well in the right corner to extend the lead to 28 points, with the game now well and truly gone for the visitors.
Craig Clarke and his charges would rally late on but despite going over through outside centre Charlie Ngatai, the Crusaders would have the final word when replacement centre Tyler Bleyendaal capitalised on a turnover before racing over from long range.
Tries: Read 2, Dagg, Crotty, Bleyendaal
Con: Carter 3
Pen: Carter 4
Tries: Tikoirotuma, Ngatai
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Telusa Veainu.
Chiefs: 15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Ross Filipo, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (c), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.
Referee: Jonathon White (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)