The defending Super 14 rugby champions the Crusaders have started life after Robbie Deans and Dan Carter in winning fashion, beating the Western Force 24-19 in a warm-up match in Perth.
Before a sell out crowd of almost 18,000, the now Todd Blackadder-coached Crusaders scored the first try of the match but the Force looked on course for victory when they posted three unanswered tries to race out to a 19-5 lead inside 35 minutes.
But the Crusaders hit back with a vengeance, notching three unanswered tries of their own before holding off a determined Force outfit in a frantic final 10 minutes to secure the win.
The Force entered the match without Wallabies Nathan Sharpe, Matt Giteau, Ryan Cross and James O'Connor, while the Crusaders All Blacks contingent of Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Brad Thorn and Ross Filipo were also rested.
The Force coach John Mitchell says the Crusaders are still the benchmark of the Super 14 despite the loss of Deans and All Black first five Carter and will still be the team to beat in 2009 under Blackadder.
Mitchell says their ethos has always been about their teamwork ahead of the individual and he doesn't see that changing.
Meanwhile the Force are grappling with the theft of a laptop containing vital footage and analysis software.
They've made a public appeal for help to locate the laptop, which was stolen from the vehicle of a member of team management on Wednesday night.