The Chiefs easily recovered from the first-half loss of Aaron Cruden to secure a memorable double over the Crusaders in Christchurch last night.
Cruden jarred his left knee after 20 minutes and was replaced by Andrew Horrell, but his side hardly missed a beat against a predictable Crusaders team who made constant errors and hardly fired a shot on attack. Israel Dagg was a late scratching for the Crusaders due to a calf strain but it's hard to see what difference he would have made.
The comprehensive three-tries-to-nil victory makes it two wins from two for the Chiefs over the Crusaders this season.
They were good - they unpicked the Crusaders set piece in the first half - especially the lineout, which was often shambolic, despite the presence of All Blacks ball winners Richie McCaw, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read.
But the Crusaders were extremely poor. Their main attacking weapon, Nemani Nadolo, did not touch the ball in the first half - his first run came in the 50th minute - and they failed to take advantage of Sam Cane's sinbinning, with Carter missing two penalties in that time. All up, Carter missed three shots at goal and was very quiet throughout.
Their scrum - so good in the early stages of the competition - was defused by the Chiefs, who won a tighthead, although penalty magnet Ben Tameifuna was put under increasing pressure in this area.
Defensively the home side were way off as well. They were exposed around the fringes in their humiliating loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton in February and it was a case of same again in Christchurch. The connected visitors gave a masterclass in this area.
It all means that Todd Blackadder's team have fallen further off the pace - their big win over the Sharks in Durban a fortnight ago appearing to be a false dawn rather than a corner turned. It is still reasonably early days but sixth place - a last play-off spot - seems a long way off after this loss and the previous one to the Highlanders, also at home.
Something isn't right at the Crusaders - their players are down on confidence and are in a big hole. The Chiefs, meanwhile, stay on track and will be a big force come finals time. Brodie Retallick was a colossus in the Chiefs lineout, with Sonny Bill Williams, Tim Nanai-Williams and James Lowe big threats in their backline.
It was Lowe's runaway try after the halftime hooter which effectively sunk the Crusaders. They were on the hunt for points only for another mistake to send Lowe scampering away and at 18-6 they were always going to struggle against a team who these days finish games much stronger than them and so it proved.
As the Crusaders chased the game it was just a matter of how many the Chiefs would win by and Liam Squire's try in the final minutes after Nanai-Williams capitalised on a defence in disarray summed up the evening. It was a deserved win, with virtually every Chiefs player outperforming his opposite, including Cane over McCaw.
Chiefs 26 (Michael Leitch, James Lowe, Liam Squire tries; Andrew Horrell con, pen; Aaron Cruden pen, Tim Nanai-Williams pen)
Crusaders 9 (Dan Carter 3 pens)
Highlight: Sonny Bill Williams' offload in the second half which sent away his midfield partner Charlie Ngatai was a perfect snapshot of the big No12's skill and timing.
Lowlight: The constant chirping of both sets of players and kicking away of the ball when penalties were awarded. Ref Nick Briant did well to put a stop to unnecessary cynicism.