The Crusaders sealed a 51-18 victory over the Highlanders on Friday in a result that stands them in good stead heading into the international break.
Todd Blackadder's outfit, who have struggled to find their best form in Super Rugby this season, finally clicked into top gear on home soil in a devastating performance that all but ends the Highlanders' hopes of making the play-offs.
Two yellow cards were the catalyst in the contest as 23 points were scored when flanks George Whitelock and James Haskell were in the sin-bin during the first-half. But it was the Crusaders who stole the show as they picked up their bonus-point in the 37th minute to cap a purple patch.
Prior to that, Whitelock had opened the scoring with a try on three minutes after a typically power-packed start from the hosts. Dan Carter added the extras and then tested his troulesome groin by striking one over from halfway. A grimace afterwards had New Zealand hearts in mouths.
Chris Noakes then responded from the kicking tee with two penalties to make it 6-10 before the Highlanders announced themselves onto the game via a well-taken individual effort from Tamati Ellison. The All Blacks squad member shrugged off a tackler and then fended off the attempts of Ben Franks en route to the line. Noakes' conversion pushed the visitors into a three-point lead with about a quarter gone, but that only served to awaken the Crusaders.
Cue 34 unanswered points from the hosts as Andy Ellis, Zac Guildford, Ryan Crotty and early replacement for Corey Flynn, Quentin MacDonald, were prominent in open play.
Their second score was something special as Carter chose to grubber from his own 22 for hooker MacDonald, who then found the speed of Guildford and the winger did the rest from 55 metres out. That was the start of something special from the Crusaders as they finally discovered their top form in 2012, something coach Blackadder has been longing for.
Guildford claimed his brace soon after as again the mercurial Carter put boot to ball, with the successful grubber kick option popping up nicely for the flyer to cash in on the left wing.
Carter converted and then added two more soon after when the Crusaders struck straight from the restart, Robbie Freuan and Ellis combining to allow Crotty to run under the posts.
Richie McCaw was the next to join the procession six minutes into the second-half when he managed to ground the ball in the right corner after Ellis's kick through. And when prop Wyatt Crockett crashed over from close-range before fly-half Carter kicked the extras, the shell-shocked Highlanders found themselves trailing 13-44. The wheels had come off for them.
The Highlanders found something to cling to when Hosea Gear gambled on an intercept from Ellis and went 80 metres to the left corner, but it was all in vain as the Crusaders were to have the last word when replacement Matt Todd went in for the home side's seventh try.
Tries: G Whitelock, Guildford 2, Crotty, McCaw, Crockett, Todd
Con: Carter 5
Pen: Carter 2
Tries: Ellison, Gear
Pen: Noakes 2
Yellow cards: George Whitelock (Crusaders - 17th minute), James Haskell (Highlanders - 26th minute)
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Matt Todd, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Tom Marshall.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kurt Baker, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 James Haskell, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Nick Crosswell, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Kade Poki.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)