The Super Rugby play-offs have begun in familiar fashion, with the ruthless Crusaders powering clear in the second half to beat the Highlanders 38-14 in their quarter-final in Christchurch.
Five-eighth Richie Mo'unga scored two of their five tries and slotted all of his goalkicks in a 23-point haul as the nine-time champions took command of what had been a bruising South Island derby on Friday.
Up just 17-14 at the break, the implacable Crusaders sensed blood when Highlanders forward Liam Squire spent time in the sinbin, bagging two quick tries to effectively book another semi-final berth.
The eighth-ranked Highlanders were all aggression early but were barely in the contest against the top qualifiers as the match wore on, failing to handle the intense pressure up front from a team chasing their third straight title.
The Crusaders will host the winner of Saturday's Hurricanes-Bulls quarter-final in Wellington.
They will be hotly favoured if their All Blacks-laden forward contingent play with the same muscle and Mo'unga with the same class.
Captain Sam Whitelock said the next visitors to Christchuch can expect the same methodology from his team.
"We want to pressure every team right across the board so obviously it starts and finishes at set piece for us as forwards," he said.
"Finals are always tough and against your neighbour just amplifies it.
"Man, we were pushed early, pushed late, so full credit to the Highlander boys."
Winger Sio Tomkinson's try had the Highlanders 7-3 up through the opening quarter but the hosts leapt clear when Mo'unga put fullback David Havili across and then scored himself after some skilful Crusaders offloads.
The Highlanders pulled the margin back to three after Teihorangi Walden slid through off a bullet pass from Aaron Smith.
A key moment was the yellow card shown to All Blacks flanker Squire for a no-arms tackle on opposite Whetukamokamo Douglas soon after halftime.
The clinical Crusaders took advantage of the extra number with big drives to set up tries for Douglas and Michael Alaalatoa.
Mo'unga scored from a chip and chase to ice his team's 28th straight win in Christchurch.
More pertinently, they have never lost a home finals match since the competition's inception in 1996.
The match marked the end of notable Super Rugby careers for six Highlanders.
All Blacks Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Luke Whitelock, Squire, Tom Franklin and Jackson Hemopo are all moving to offshore clubs next year.
Luke Whitelock said the build-up had been an emotional one for the departing players but they couldn't lift when needed against the Crusaders juggernaut.
"They're very good at what they do and they just execute it well," he said.
"They have the ability to score a couple of tries pretty quickly and they punished us in a couple of minutes to change that pressure."