The Crusaders, despite some strong resistance from their South Island rivals, had too much class and ran out comfortable 38-3 winners against the Highlanders at Carisbrook in Dunedin on Saturday.
The five tries to none victory saw the Crusaders go top of the standings - ahead of the Blues, who were to play later in the day.
They are a spooky team - the Crusaders. Whenever it matters they suddenly have more players on the field than the others. Count them up when play is static and they have only 15 players on the field. But come urgent defence and there are Crusaders all over the place. Come the chance of a try and again there are many more Crusaders than defenders. They are a spooky team.
The Highlanders dominated possession and territory but not even when they were close to the line did they look like scoring. When it was their turn to defend they did it as well as anybody but suddenly all those Crusaders came galloping and there was room to score tries - five of them in this match.
It was a hard-fought derby, which the score does not suggest it was. It was and defences were watertight. It was different in that respect from that century match in Hamilton. The defences meant business. It was just that the Highlanders did not have enough men to tackle on five occasions, and so the Crusaders ending beating the Highlanders by more than they had ever beaten their South Island neighbours.
It was cold in Dunedin with a mean southerly blowing across the field, probably in the Highlanders' favour and they signalled their muscular advantage at the very first scrum. Throughout their scrumming was better, which did not show on the scoreboard.
After they had destroyed the first Crusader scrum, the Crusaders scored as they went with close-quarter passing up the midfield and then eventually broke left where Daniel Carter sprinted past Nick Evans to score in the left corner from where he converted. 7-0 after seven minutes.
The Highlanders then settled down in Crusader territory but Leon MacDonald broke out and then Caleb Ralph had a run down the left, and Carter kicked a penalty. 10-0.
When Richie McCaw was penalised at a tackle, Evans kicked a penalty goal. 10-3. That was as close as the Highlanders got. In the next 47 minutes they diode not score a single point.
The Crusaders scored seven minutes into the first half and then seven minutes into the second half. Ralph started a counterattack off a kick. Mose Tuiali'i carried it on and gave to Corey Flynn who did well down the left touch-line before passing inside to Ralph and, lo and behold, there were no more defenders and the left wing scored. Carter converted with a low kick with a reverse swing. 17-3.
Rua Tipoki replaced Aaron Mauger and had a big hand in the next three tries.
The Highlanders threw into a line-out and gave away a free kick, which they disagreed with which cost them an extra ten metres. Tipoki got a clever pass to Casey Laulala who stretched over in Toby Morland's tackle,. Carter swung the conversion in. 24-3.
The Highlanders threw into a line-out - and lost it. The Crusader made ground and then spun the ball left. Tipoki cut clean through the midfield and gave to Laulala who cut inside to score close in. That was the bonus-point try with 11 minutes to go. 31-3.
The Highlanders attacked, battering away at the Crusader fortress. The Crusaders had replacement Ti'i Paulo sent to the sin bin, a first for the Crusaders this season. In fact their discipline was a bit wonky in the second half. After conceding three penalties in the first half, they conceded nine in the second.
After the siren went the match became bizarre - lots of fun and games with basketball thrown in as the ball changed hands time and again with knock-ons and advantage but ended down the other end of the field when Tipoki had a free run to the posts for the last try of the match.
Man of the Match: Daniel Carter who did all things so well- catching, passing, kicking, directing, tackling, running. Whatever he did it had the stamp of class - of genius.
For the Highlanders:
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Carter, Ralph, Laulala 2, Tipoki
Cons: Carter 4, Brett
Yellow card: Ti'i Paulo (Crusaders, 74 - professional foul, in at the side of the ruck)
Highlanders: 15 James Wilson, 14 Lucky Mulipola, 13 Matthew Saunders, 12 Aaron Bancroft, 11 Viliame Waqaseduadua, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Toby Morland, 8 Ezra Taylor, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Josh Blackie (c), 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Hoani MacDonald, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Anton Oliver, 1 Clarke Dermody.
Replacements: 16 Jason Macdonald, 17 Chris King, 18 Kane Thompson, 19 Hale T-Pole, 20 Ryan McCarthy, 21 Charlie Hore, 22 Callum Bruce.
Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Kevin Senio, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Reuben Thorne, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Kieran Read, 19 Johnny Leo'o, 20 Andrew Ellis, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Rua Tipoki.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Paul Honiss (New Zealand), Gary Wise (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Assessor: Stuart Beissel (New Zealand), Lusanda Menze (South Africa)