Crusaders 51 - Highlanders 18

In this mood the Crusaders are frightening. This crushing triumph of their Highlander neighbours was a red light warning to the rest of the Super 15 sides.

They create danger on attack in all areas of their game, and when they are asked to repel their foes they hit with equal vengeance.

When they front as they did last night in Christchurch, they deliver the sort of total rugby which is the envy and scourge of their competitors.


The Chiefs know they need to brush away the Blues tonight otherwise the Crusaders will be scenting a kill when they meet for their return match, a fortnight after this month's test series.

The bye did not interrupt the Crusaders' menace. After caning the Blues then putting their feet up for a spell, they returned without losing any momentum.

Referee Steve Walsh had overseen less than three minutes when he signalled George Whitelock's opening try as the Crusaders rumbled around the edges of a series of rucks.

Glitches came with Corey Flynn damaging his ribs and Whitelock heading to the cooler for a 10m minute rest. The Highlanders got back into the match briefly but then lost their regular offender James Haskell to the bin.

That was an invitation for the Crusaders. It was not quite smorgasboard footy but close to it.

Zac Guildford claimed a couple of tries, Ryan Crotty finished another, Daniel Carter slapped over the kicks and the Crusaders were 32-13 in the lead at the break.

Carter winced early after one penalty and you wondered if his groin injury was still troubling him. Perhaps it was but he kept on kicking and even attempted, and just came up short, with a 52m attempt.

Several times he switched to his right peg to grubber through the line, both times replacement hooker Quentin MacDonald chimed in and laid the ball off for Guildford to use his pace to score. They were impressive pieces of collective skill.

There was not enough time at the interval for the crowd to discuss the thrilling class of the Crusaders. They were still humming when the red and blacks went one better. Half of the team handled to get them out of their 22, Israel Dagg poked himself through the line and threw a marginal pass to Andy Ellis, who propped, swivelled and then dinked a kick to the corner for Richie McCaw to dive and slap a paw on the ball.

It was fortunate for Ireland that they had not arrived to take in the carnage live. They were oblivious to the slaughter as they flew across the Tasman. But the scoreline and murmurs of the class will wallop them as they sit down for their first breakfast in New Zealand.

Replays will confirm the widespread class of the test men in the Crusaders, the breadth of their skills and control will be a withering lesson about what confronts the men from the Emerald Isle.

The scoreline was high but this was no frilly performance. The Highlanders were abrasive throughout and the Crusaders needed to quell that heat before they used the precise movement across the field which outflanked the visitors. The intensity stayed in the game until late with a variety of skirmishes pinpointing the struggles.

It was a glorious piece of sporting entertainment for everyone but the Highlanders and their families and close friends. It is a performance the rest of the teams should tape and use as a marker for the sort of rugby they will need to make any headway against the Crusaders.