OPINION: These Crusaders are good enough to win this year's Super Rugby title.
Four years without the silverware must seem an eternity in red-and-black country, but the drought could be broken as the Crusaders look for an eighth title.
They were mightily impressive in beating the Bulls last night, adding to the feeling that they are producing their best form when it matters most.
Todd Blackadder inherited a talented squad, but also the burden of maintaining the highest standards, when he took over the coaching of the Crusaders from Robbie Deans.
Slowly but surely he has stamped his own mark on a team that consistently set the standards from 1998 till 2007.
Patience has been wearing a little thin and pressure building on the Canterbury icon, not that you'd know from his cool persona.
But that's the reality of his position. It's as close to the demands of the All Blacks' job as any coaching assignment in the New Zealand game.
Blackadder's boys were desperately unlucky not to win the title last year when they fell exhausted at the final hurdle in Brisbane, a match too far in a season where they were forced to play their campaign on the road.
With the benefit of establishing themselves at a new Christchurch base, they'll be far fresher for the away challenge that now awaits them in next weekend's semifinal. They look like they have the legs to go the distance this year. They certainly have the game, as the Bulls discovered.
The Crusaders out-muscled the strong-arm team of South African rugby. They forced turnovers at the breakdowns, recycled with rhythm, mauled manfully, scrummed strongly and looked comfortable in the lineout.
They flicked it wide when they had the chance and rode comfortably on the boot of Dan Carter as well. The scoreline flattered the Bulls, whose points came too late to count.
There's no better team in the competition at playing from inside their own half than the Crusaders. They back their defence and are comfortable with the patience required to wait for counter-attacks.
It's those sort of qualities that make a difference when it comes to the business-end of a competition and no one will relish playing the Crusaders now.
Don't forget Kieran Read is likely to be back next week at the side of Richie McCaw, who shrugged off some midweek media mischief to display his class all over last night's match.
With all due respect to the Chiefs, who topped the New Zealand conference, it's hard to escape the feeling that it's the Crusaders' playoffs pedigree and allround strengths that make them the team most likely to return the title to these shores.
- © Fairfax NZ News