The clinical Crusaders have dealt the NSW Waratahs a reality check with a 42-18 Super Rugby Pacific drubbing in Christchurch.
Waratahs coach Darren Coleman said pre-game he couldn't wait to see his in-form charges - riding a four-match winning streak - test themselves against the defending champions on Saturday.
He quickly learnt they have much ground to make up ahead of the looming finals.
Even with a front-row crisis and needing to fire off an SOS to 39-year-old John Afoa in France, the Crusaders were a class above as the 11-time Super Rugby kings piled on six tries to three in a bonus-point blowout at Orangetheory Stadium.
Compounding the Waratahs' woes was a knee injury to Wallabies World Cup hopeful Max Jorgensen, with the teenage fullback forced off after only 10 minutes.
The match was as good as over at halftime with the Crusaders enjoying a 28-8 lead despite being on the back foot early.
The heavy defeat leaves the Waratahs assured of finishing the regular season in sixth spot, and Coleman and company will now be sweating on the Crusaders locking up the second position they presently occupy.
Otherwise the Tahs face the grim prospect of having to return to Christchurch, where they haven't won since 2004, in two weeks to face the Crusaders again in the sudden-death quarter-finals.
The Crusaders can secure second with a final-round victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington next Saturday before the Waratahs host Moana Pasifika later that night.
Afoa only arrived in New Zealand on Thursday afternoon but the 38-Test former All Black didn't look out of place making the transition from the French second division back to Super Rugby for the first time in almost 5000 days, even being held up over the try line at one point.
"It's been a whirlwind couple of days. It's been amazing," Afoa said after his impressive, improbable 48-minute cameo.
There was no sign of the one-way traffic early when the Waratahs were dominating territory and field position so much that referee James Coleman had to caution Crusaders captain Codiec Taylor for the home team conceding four penalties in the opening seven minutes.
He wasn't kidding, with Leicester Fainga'anuku shown a yellow card shortly after.
But a lone penalty goal to Ben Donaldson was scant reward for the Waratahs' hot start as the Crusaders made the visitors pay.
With Jorgensen out of the defensive line being treated, the Crusaders took full advantage with David Havili crossing for the first try in the 10th minute.
The Waratahs briefly regained the lead through a reply to skipper Jake Gordon but a driving maul try to captain Cody Taylor and a brilliant counter-attacking strike finished off by halfback Mitchell Drummond set the tone for the afternoon.
One positive for Coleman and company was the performance of barnstorming No.8 Langi Gleeson, who continues to draw comparisons with Wallabies great Toutai Kefu and added to his highlights reel with a beautiful offload for a second-half try to winger Dylan Pietsch.
TRIES: Havili, Taylor, Drummond, Burke, Mo'unga, Havili Talitui
CONS: Mo'unga 6/6
TRIES: Gordon, Pietsch, Leatigaga
CONS: Donaldson 0/2, Edmed 0/1
PENS: Donaldson 1/1
CRUSADERS v NSW WARATAHS TEAMS
CRUSADERS (1-15): Kershawl Sykes-Martin, Codie Taylor (c), John Afoa, Quinten Strange, Sam Whitelock, Christian Lio-Willie, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace, Mitchell Drummond, Richie Mo'unga, Dallas McLeod, David Havili, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Chay Fihaki, Fergus Burke
RESERVES: Brodie McAlister, Seb Calder, Reuben O'Neill, Zack Gallagher, Sione Havili Talitui, Noah Hotham, Pepesana Patafilo, Wil Gualter
WARATAHS (1-15): Te Tera Faulkner, Dave Porecki, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Jed Holloway, Hugh Sinclair, Taleni Seu, Charlie Gamble, Langi Gleeson, Jake Gordon (c), Ben Donaldson, Dylan Pietsch, Mosese Tuipulotu, Joey Walton, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Max Jorgensen
RESERVES: Mahe Vailanu, Nephi Leatigaga, Tom Lambert, Ned Hanigan, Will Harris, Harrison Goddard, Tane Edmed, Harry Wilson
Referee: James Doleman
Assistant Referees: Jono Bredin, Fraser Hannon