New season, same Crusaders does not quite tell the full story.
The defending champions were far from their polished best in the first match of Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 against the Highlanders in Dunedin - and still got the job done with relative ease despite conceding two yellow cards.
The second-half attack was particularly scrappy from the Crusaders, as wayward passing and sloppy handling crept in with fatigue to stifle possession.
But with world-class defence, you don't need to be perfect.
Four tries to two the Crusaders scored, racing out to a 14-0 lead before needing a 72nd-minute try from replacement hooker Brodie McAlister to finish off the Highlanders.
Yet it was defence which set the tone throughout – the way the Crusaders nullified the favoured Highlanders maul epitomising their forward strength.
With their set piece proficiency, the ruthless Crusaders tight five steamrolled the Highlanders scrum all evening long.
Outside their dominant pack, where Codie Taylor led the way, wings Leicester Fainga'anuku and Sevu Reece were highly prominent. Fainga'anuku used his power off first receiver and swallowed Richie Mo'unga crossfield kicks, while Reece savoured his roaming commission to pop up all over the park and finish one classy second-half try in the corner.
New Zealand derbies were near all closely fought in the inaugural SRA season, and if this opening match is any gauge, that theme will continue in 2021.
For now at least, the Crusaders remain standard setters - this their seventh straight victory over the Highlanders.
The Highlanders recovered from the opening onslaught, with 15 penalties and two yellow cards from the Crusaders keeping the contest alive.
The locals were denied a 66th-minute Patelesio Tomkinson try, with the TMO ruling a dubious knock-on at a previous ruck - replays hardly showing a clear and obvious mistake.
Ultimately, though, the Highlanders could not break down the staunch Crusaders defence. They also squandered numerous chances with botched crossfield kicks and their malfunctioning lineout proving costly.
Under the roof, the Highlanders opened the season with a stirring haka, much to the Zoo's delight during O-week, but the Crusaders dominated the first quarter to lead 14-0 inside 18 minutes.
First through defensive line speed, the Crusaders swarmed the Highlanders attack, picking off runners at will, driving them back and reading backdoor plays to perfection.
The Crusaders set piece, thanks to their All Blacks-laden pack, consumed the Highlanders scrum on several occasions, with Joe Moody leading the charge and Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett delivering second-row power.
Moody was, however, fortunate to escape a yellow card early after lashing out with his open palm to the face of Jack Regan in retaliation for the Highlanders lock holding his jersey.
Once on the front foot, the Crusaders flicked into attack mode. Not with the usual suspects, though, with Whitelock providing the slick short ball to send Taylor bursting through a brilliant line and showing pace to beat the fullback to open the scoring for the season.
From their impeccable set piece, this time the lineout, the Crusaders effortlessly gave Reece space to work his magic – Bryn Hall snaffling his centring kick to establish a 14-0 lead.
Ill discipline proved the major issue for the Crusaders. Seven infringements – three in a row for offside – was enough for referee Ben O'Keeffe to send Ethan Blackadder to the bin, sparking the Highlanders revival.
Shannon Frizell and Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, in combination in the back row, led the way with powerful carries for the Highlanders that brought the impetus for their response.
Mikaele-Tu'u, with speed off the back of the scrum, delivered front-foot ball that allowed Aaron Smith to whip a superb cut-out ball back to the blindside where Frizell waited in the corner.
Mitchell Hunt and Jona Nareki next combined, the latter skipping around Crusaders midfielder Dallas McLeod and put Connor Garden-Bachop in on his debut.
Hunt, though, couldn't knock over the sideline conversions but his strike just after the break reduced the deficit to one point.
Tomkinson's non-try proved the Highlanders' last shot at a bonus point after the Crusaders kicked away.
A late Barrett yellow card will serve as a reminder of the glaring area the Crusaders must improve but another satisfying southern derby victory is nothing to scoff at in the first match of this campaign.
Crusaders 26 (Codie Taylor, Bryn Hall, Sevu Reece, Brodie McAlister tries; Richie Mo'unga 3 cons)
Highlanders 13 (Shannon Frizell, Connor Garden-Bachop tries; Mitchell Hunt pen)