Four tries to nil rout
The Crusaders sounded an ominous warning when they summarily dispatched the Reds, 38-9, to march into the Super Rugby semifinals.
The Crusaders may have appeared in the play-offs 14 times in the last 15 years, but they have not won the competition since 2008.
However, based on Saturday's performance they look like a team that can go all the way.
They will have to wait till Sunday to find out who, and where, they play in the semifinals. If the Brumbies beat the Cheetahs in Canberra, the Crusaders will head to Hamilton to face the Chiefs. If the Cheetahs win, the Crusaders will travel to Pretoria (to face the Bulls) and the Cheetahs will tackle the Chiefs.
The Reds, who have not won in Christchurch since 1999, were full of hope of a clean sweep against New Zealand teams.
However, on Saturday they were swept off the park by a Crusaders team in sublime form and looking a good bet for collecting an unprecedented eighth Super Rugby title.
The Crusaders were far more effective in retaining possession and launching counter attacks from deep, while their set pieces were also more solid than the rickety Reds.
With their tight forwards dominating the contact area, the Reds constantly received ball on the back foot and then turned it over far too frequently.
Add to that the Reds' sloppy midfield defence and the visitors were in trouble from early in the game.
Another troublesome tactic for the Reds was having Quade Cooper sitting deep, at fullback, on defence. He was reduced to kicking balls back at the Crusaders for most part. And when he did have the ball in hand, he was no more than a distributor, not asking any questions of the Crusaders.
The visitors were also far too predictable in the way they continued to play off Will Genia, with the Crusaders' defenders easily dealing with the numerous one-off runners and succeeding in slowing down possession.
It allowed the Crusaders to fan out on defence, without having to commit numbers to the tackle or breakdown.
In stark contrast the Crusaders seemed to be able to create extra numbers out wide with ease, as their slick passing game constantly caused the Reds to scramble on defence.
The opening two minutes saw the Crusaders retain the ball through multiple phases, before Ben Tapuai rushed off-side in desperation. Dan Carter, from just over 40 metres out, slotted the penalty to give his team an early lead.
From the restart Dominic Shipperley, chasing up hard, collided with the shoulder of Israel Dagg - causing a lengthy delay, before he eventually got back to his feet and carried on playing.
The Reds had a brief period of possession, before the Reds launched another furious raid. Kieran Read went close, with the TMO saying pictures were 'inconclusive', before Carter put Ryan Crotty through a hole and over for the first try. When Carter added the conversion, the Crusaders had a 10-0 lead - after just 11 minutes.
Crotty went from hero to villain minutes later when he played the ball on the ground inside his own 22 and Quade Cooper slotted the penalty to narrow the gap to 3-10.
Ben Lucas had a long-range shot in the 18th minute, after another breakdown penalty, but he hooked it past the left upright.
Chris Feauai-Sautia was penalised at the tackle as the game moved into the second quarter, but this time Carter was short from just on 50 metres out.
When James Slipper was penalised at a scrum in the 24th minute, Carter made it 13-3, but almost immediately Wyatt Crockett handed a penalty back to the Reds for offside and Cooper reclaimed the three points - 6-13.
However, the Crusaders hit back in the most emphatic fashion - a sublime try by Dan Carter, coming after Sam Whitelock had made the initial bust and the Crusaders came sweeping up in numbers. Carter couldn't add the extras, but at 18-6 it was beginning to look ominous.
Just before the break the Crusaders blew through a ruck and won a penalty, which Carter turned into three points (21-6), before the Crusaders launched another raid on the Reds line with a set-piece move from inside their own half. Even though Kieran Read was over the line, the MO could not find a grounding and they took that 15-point lead into half-time.
Cooper had an early shot at goal in the second half, after the Crusaders advanced ahead of the kicker, but he was well wide. However, he got another chance minutes later, after a breakdown penalty in front of the Crusaders' posts, and narrowed the gap to 9-21.
Again the Crusaders' response was sensational - with Tom Marshall getting the try, after Dagg had put Wyatt Crockett into space and he managed to offload to Marshall. The Carter conversion made it 28-9.
The Reds did not give up and they went close as the game moved into the final quarter, only to be denied by the MO - as there was 'no clear evidence of the ball being grounded'.
And the Crusaders then rubbed salt into the festering Reds wounds - as a spilled ball was hacked upfield and the chasing Crusaders forcing the Reds to scramble the ball into touch near their 22.
From the resulting line-out Carter's creative skills were instrumental in Crotty getting his second try. Carter added the conversion (35-9), before being replaced.
That became 38-9, when Tom Taylor kicked a penalty 10 minutes from time. And that is how it stayed to the end.
Man of the match: Liam Gill had a minor influence at the breakdown, Will Genie had his moments without causing too much trouble and Radike Samo did his best to make an impact after he came on in the second half. Tom Marshall kept asking questions of the Reds' defence. The massive red defensive line involved all the Crusaders forwards, but the Whitelock brothers deserve special mention. Wyatt Crockett put on display his great handling and running skills, despite conceding his customary string of penalties and free kicks. Kieran Read was bleeding for the cause as he put body on the line, literally. Dan Carter's tactical appreciation and creative skills were on full display and he may well have been the most influential player. However, this is one case where singling out an individual will not do justice to the team effort and our award goes to the entire Crusaders team.
Moment of the match: There were four sublime tries, but we feel that the Dan Carter try on the half-hour mark, set up by a Sam Whitelock bust in midfield. At 13-6 (before the Carter try) the Reds still had hope, but from then on the visitors were chasing a game and never came close to catching a rampant Crusaders team.
Villain of the match: There was nothing untoward in this game, except for the crowd's constant ugly booing of Quade Cooper. He may not be the most popular player and has had his issues with cult hero Richie McCaw. However, the crowd's behaviour is tiresome and doesn't belong in the game. It is ironic that the other venue where spectators constantly cause an unpleasant atmosphere with their behaviour is at Newlands, where the Cape Crusaders (the Crusaders' infamous Cape Town fans) caused so much drama with their uncouth behaviour this year.
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Crotty 2, Carter, Marshall
Cons: Carter 3
Pens: Carter 3, Taylor
For the Reds:
Pens: Cooper 3
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Luke Whitelock, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Jono Lance, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Jono Owen, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Luke Morahan.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)