Highlanders winger Hosea Gear scored a try to mark his 100th Super Rugby game in fitting style, but the Crusaders ran out easy winners after the hosts' All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu was red-carded for tip-tackling Tom Marshall.
The bonus-point victory sees the Crusaders maintain for another week their hopes of reaching the play-offs, but the Highlanders' humbling defeat after an early try for Ben Smith was just another disappointment in a disappointing season for the hosts. Dan Carter kicked eight goals from eight attempts and added a dazzling try to contribute 25 points as the Crusaders continued their charge towards the play-offs in front of a crowd of 18,463 fans. By contrast, Colin Slade kicked only one from four for the Highlanders.
The Highlanders were messy and disjointed display by the Highlanders while the Crusaders grew in confidence and continuity after a sluggish start to gain maximum points and claim their 16th win from 24 matches against their southern rivals.
Carter opened the scoring with a 45-metre penalty but the Highlanders hit back quickly, turning down a comfortable penalty in search of tries and Ben Smith scoring after a lovely offload by Tamati Ellison.
Highlanders blindside flanker Hoeata was yellow carded after 18 minutes and Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock was thrown out in the corner as the Crusaders attacked their 14-man opponents. The Highlanders survived the assault but Slade missed two kickable penalties which would have given them breathing space. And the Crusaders could not be denied, Carter making a break and captain George Whitelock finishing off under the posts. Carter concerted and the Crusaders led 10-7 after 28 minutes. The Highlanders had put in a lot of effort for minimal return and their vaunted front row could make no impression on the Crusaders' second-stringers, who packed the more solid scrum. The visitors increased their lead to 13-7 on half-time when Carter kicked his second penalty.
The Highlanders brought on Nonu and Aaron Smith to start the second spell but it almost led to immediate disaster. Nonu's clearing kick from the kick-off was charged down, and Slade was adjudged by the TMO to just have got his hand to the ball before the flying Zac Guildford. The respite was temporary., Andy Ellis gathered a pass from Tom Marshall, easily breaking Tony Woodcock's tackle and scoring the Crusaders' second try. Carter converted and the Crusaders led 20-7 two minutes into the spell.
The Highlanders were rewarded for a lengthy spell on attack when Gear was given the last pass and shoved off the desperate tackle of Israel Dagg to score his 37th Super try in the left corner. But it all turned to custard the next minute when Nonu's inglorious cameo ended when he was sent off by referee Steve Walsh for a tip tackle on Tom Marshall after 17 minutes. Carter kicked a penalty following the infringement and the Crusaders led 23-12.
Crusaders hooker Corey Flynn was no sooner on the field than he was yellow carded for a high tackle on Aaron Smith in another shabby episode in a stop-start game. The Crusaders extended their lead to 26-12 with 16 minutes remaining when Carter kicked his fourth penalty. It became 33-12 three minutes when Carter broke through some shoddy defence to score after strong leadup work by Marshall and Willie Heinz. Telusa Veainu scored a late try. Which Carter converted, to complete a decisive win for the Crusaders.