The Crusaders celebrated Wyatt Crockett’s 200th Super Rugby match with a crushing 45-22 win against the Highlanders that also confirmed the team’s top billing in the play-offs.
The Crusaders, who last season, made history in being the first team to travel to South Africa and win a final, are on course to go back to back and claim a record ninth title.
Crusaders winger George Bridge scored two of the five tries and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga converted four tries and added three penalties.
The Highlanders were competitive in the first half and trailed by just a point a minute before halftime.
But the Crusaders, as champion teams do, scored in the final movement before halftime and early in the second half to end any prospect of a Highlanders upset.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read also made his first start of the year. Read had back surgery in December and had played just one provincial game a week ago.
The win means that any team with title aspirations will have to leave Christchurch victorious.
The Crusaders, on the road, are the most successful team in the competition’s history but they are even more successful when playing at home.
Tries: George Bridge (2), David Kaetau Havili, Scott Barrett, Richie Mo’unga
Conversion: Richie Mo’unga (4)
Penalties: Mo’unga (3)
Tries: Tyrel Lomax, Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo
Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (2)
15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Joe Moody
Substitutes: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele
15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Richard Buckman, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire/Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Substitutes: 16 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Pari Pari Parkinson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Fletcher Smith