It was a case of new competition, same old story when the Crusaders beat the Highlanders 38-15 in Christchurch on Saturday.
The five-time Vodacom Super 12 champions, who are red-hot favourites to win the first Super 14, never looked like losing on their home ground and grabbed a bonus point when replacement Casey Laulala intercepted a poor pass from Highlanders prop Carl Haymen and scored just before full time.
The Crusaders led 18-9 at half-time thanks to two tries from flank Reuben Thorne and scrumhalf Kevin Senio, and only the boot of fullback Ben Blair kept the Highlanders in the game.
When winger Rico Gear scored early in the second half to give the Crusaders a 28-12 lead, the Highlanders were forced to play catch up and made a number of unforced errors.
However, the visitors were very unlucky not to be awarded a penalty try when Senio broke through and offloaded to captain Anton Oliver, who was tackled early by Leon MacDonald. Oliver pleaded for a penalty try, which would have made it 21-19, but while the Crusaders fullback was yellow carded, the Highlanders were only awarded a penalty.
Crusaders – Tries: Reuben Thorne, Kevin Senio, Rico Gear and Casey Laulala. Conversions: Dan Carter (3). Penalties: Carter: (4).
Highlanders – Penalties: Ben Blair (4), Nick Evans.