Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: As an empire rises... another falls

The Crusaders and Blues have been the standard-bearers for New Zealand rugby - usually it's the Crusaders setting the standard and the Blues having to bear it. Is the tide turning?

Jackson Willison of the Blues celebrates after scoring the only try in Brisbane. Photo / Getty Images
Jackson Willison of the Blues celebrates after scoring the only try in Brisbane. Photo / Getty Images

Moral victories don't win championships but the Blues suggested in their narrow loss to the Reds in Brisbane that they could finish higher on the table than the Crusaders this season.

Yes, the Blues were that good in losing 12-11 at Suncorp Stadium, and yes, the Crusaders were that bad in beating the Melbourne-based Rebels 30-26 in Christchurch.

It is a remarkable turnaround for both teams. John Kirwan, who inherited a broken Blues franchise last year which he bolstered with youth and enthusiasm, promised a roller-coaster of highs and lows this season, but he is in charge of an outfit travelling a damn sight more consistently than the Crusaders.

The Blues sit in fifth place on the table, two points and two places above the Crusaders, who haven't yet had their second bye and the four points which go with it. The Blues also have yet to travel to South Africa.

Todd Blackadder's men have the easier run-in. They play four of their next seven matches at home, but apart from very good performances against the Bulls, Kings and Stormers on successive weekends, they have shown little that suggests they will win their first title since 2008.

Having lost to the Blues and Hurricanes early on they had their three-game revival but then dropped games to the Sharks and Force. The expected statement of intent never really arrived at home against the Highlanders, and against the Rebels it seemed like they simply expected to win and for the pieces to fall into place.

The Blues, on the other hand, seem to have enthusiasm as their default mode. Their narrow defeat to the Reds gained them only one point but won them many more admirers. Their adherence to the possession-based game plan was remarkable.

The Blues routinely recycled the ball through 20-plus phases, whereas the Crusaders consistently gave up possession.

Kirwan's men were outstanding in beating the Crusaders at Eden Park in early March and comfortably did the double against the Hurricanes.

It appears the Crusaders are inspired only by the biggest of challenges - their efforts in reaching the final despite the earthquakes and constant travel of 2011 is a testament to that. They remain in touch of the leaders in seventh place, and they have the personnel to trouble any opposition. Their biggest challenge, it seems, is themselves.

Meanwhile, the Blues, with veterans Piri Weepu and Ali Williams finding form and youngsters such as Charles Piutau and Steven Luatua shining, travel merrily on, each week a voyage of discovery, burdened by neither history nor the weight of expectation.

Crusaders on the wane?

*Five years since last title
*3rd in NZC, 7th overall
*In an ordinary April, the Crusaders have lost to the Sharks and Force, beat the hapless Highlanders and just scraped home against the Rebels.


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Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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