Life comes at you fast. One minute you're in the fight, the next you're left staring at the heavens wondering how things went so wrong.

At least for the Highlanders, it's not hard to pinpoint the moment things headed south in their 38-14 Super Rugby quarterfinal loss to the Crusaders.

The Highlanders were proving to be up to the task of going toe-to-toe with the defending champions, but when Liam Squire was sent to the sin bin for a blatant shoulder charge in the 45th minute, they couldn't hold the hosts out.

The Crusaders ran in two tries during the 10 minutes they had the numbers advantage, and that was enough to end the Highlanders' season.

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Tei Walden of the Highlanders is tackled by Jack Goodhue and David Havili. Photo / Photosport
Tei Walden of the Highlanders is tackled by Jack Goodhue and David Havili. Photo / Photosport

While the Crusaders and their fans will have no issue with taking the win and moving on, the yellow card quickly put a dampener on what was, until that point, an entertaining and competitive game of rugby. But while Squire became the villain, Crusaders No10 Richie Mo'unga was the hero.

Mo'unga had his fingerprints all over the match and controlled it superbly with two tries to his name and a 100 per cent record from the tee.

The Crusaders opened the scoring with an early settler off the boot of Mo'unga, before the Highlanders took control.

After dominating the territory and possession for the opening 15 minutes, they were rewarded with a try to Sio Tomkinson on the wing. Their lead didn't last long, as Mo'unga sent David Havili in under the posts from close range just five minutes later.

Mo'unga extended the lead further when he finished off some slick ball movement, but the Crusaders' lead was cut to three at the half by Highlanders midfielder Teihorangi Walden.

Matt Todd and Ben Smith compete for a high ball. Photo / Getty
Matt Todd and Ben Smith compete for a high ball. Photo / Getty

All signs pointed to a tense final 40 minutes and the second half started accordingly. However, when Squire left the pitch the energy in the Highlanders squad went with him.

Going a man down, the Highlanders dropped their heads a bit and the Crusaders pounced; first through Whetukamokamo Douglas who went over from a driving maul that was almost unimpeded by the Highlanders before Michael Alaalatoa barged his way over.

Then, when Mo'unga stripped the ball out of the hands of Marty Banks and fell over the try line for his second of the night, the book closed on the Highlanders topsy-turvy campaign.

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It will be the last game in a Highlanders jersey for a number of key players, with Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo among those moving on, while the Crusaders push on in search of yet another Super Rugby title.

Crusaders 38 (Richie Mo'unga 2, David Havili, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Michael Alaalatoa tries; Mo'unga 4 cons, pen)

Highlanders 14 (Sio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden tries; Josh Ioane 2 cons)

HT: 17-14