With the spluttering dress rehearsal complete, the Reds will trek back to Christchurch next week with a puncher's chance for a quarter-final that will, surely, produce a vastly improved Crusaders performance.
In a largely forgettable fixture that featured aimless kicking and frequent handling errors, the Crusaders, minus All Blacks Richie Mo'unga and Codie Taylor, who will return from injury for the first week of the playoffs, were miles from their clinical best on Friday night.
Yet the red and blacks still had far too much firepower for the Reds.
Scott Robertson's men locked up second spot, and consigned the Reds to seventh, to ensure these two teams will meet again at the same venue for next week's quarter-final.
Let's hope the second edition produces a more compelling contest. The first was substandard at best.
The Crusaders led 21-3 halftime and were never genuinely threatened, despite a second-half fightback from the Reds that included tries from Richie Asiata and impressive Wallabies loose forward Harry Wilson.
That comeback from the visitors was sparked following Pablo Matera's moment of madness that cost the Crusaders.
The veteran Pumas loose forward was yellow carded in the 54th minute – somewhat fortunate to escape a red – for a dangerous throw on Reds midfielder Jordan Petaia. Matera picked up and threw Petaia onto his shoulder/neck, and the worry for the Crusaders is the unnecessary incident could lead to Matera being suspended.
Replacement hooker Asiata immediately capitalised on the one-man advantage, off the back of several strong Wilson charges, by crossing for the Reds. While they struck again late through Wilson, the Reds never got within striking distance, but they will take some confidence from winning the second half.
Repeat meetings with Kiwi teams has left the Queenslanders down on troops - injured Wallabies trio James O'Connor, Taniela Tupou and Hunter Paisami among those sidelined.
Having now lost 19 successive away games against New Zealand opposition, and last savouring success in Christchurch 23 years ago, Reds coach Brad Thorn faces a seemingly insurmountable task to topple the Crusaders in next week's quarter-final.
After stuttering to losses against the Chiefs, Blues, and a shock defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney, it would be a major stretch to suggest the Crusaders have regained their mojo. This match offered further evidence they are not the vaunted team they once were – yet they have all the ingredients to regroup and reach the finale with a favourable draw against Australian teams.
Perhaps symptomatic of a prelude fixture, the Crusaders lacked the ruthless edge we have come to expect. Their skill execution, often under minimal pressure, was well off, with frequent handling errors and forward passes blighting their work.
The Crusaders managed one try in the second spell to replacement loose forward Tom Christie - Fergus Burke was denied a late double due to obstruction – to sum up their lack of conviction.
Burke and Will Jordan helped the Crusaders establish a 14-0 lead in as many minutes but they then lacked clinical finishing and patience. Matera and Scott Barrett blew chances close to the line while the backs often pushed for the miracle offload.
The Crusaders set piece dominated, nabbing one tighthead and swarming the Reds lineout to win two against the throw, and their rolling maul proved difficult to stop, but they were guilty of aimless kicking.
The Reds weren't any better on that front and while they had glimpses of attacking spark, that included Tate McDermott being turned over five metres out at Suliasi Vunivalu pushing off Leicester Fainga'anuku, those chances were fleeting and their execution was poor.
This was a wake-up call of sorts, but comparing the two teams, the Crusaders have much more upside. Insert Mo'unga and Taylor; inject a sermon from Robertson and the Crusaders should prove too strong for the Reds once more.
Crusaders 28 (Fergus Burke, Will Jordan, Brodie McAlister, Tom Christie tries; Burke 4 cons)
Reds 15 (Richie Asiata, Harry Wilson tries; Lawson Creighton con, pen)