The Blues are too far into their redevelopment to be enthused by brave defeats. They can't really shrug off losses any more as all being part of the learning curve.

They gave themselves a chance to win last night - and they didn't finish it. They were controlling the tempo for 50 minutes, had the Crusaders frustrated and a little ragged and, most importantly, had built a lead.

If they had screwed the nut tighter in the final quarter, held their discipline and kept the pressure on the Crusaders, the outcome could have been a lot different. But instead they lost their shape and intensity.

Not by much, but by enough to let the Crusaders find their composure and play in the right areas. The Blues then lost some of their accuracy and pace. They couldn't get going forward any more and the Crusaders realised that they were back in it and simply had to be patient - wait for the Blues to turn the ball over, hoof it down the other end and inevitably a chance to go for goal would present itself.


It felt a little limp in the end - that the Blues just drifted out of the game without really knowing how to stop themselves. And that slow demise from a position of promise made it hard to appreciate that for 50 minutes - maybe longer - the Blues were a real chance.

Defensively, the Blues were unrecognisable from last week; from the team they have been for much of the season. For all the improvements that have been made since Tana Umaga arrived as coach, the one area that's been slow to evolve is their defensive work.

Rebuilding their structures and confidence is a long-haul job, as it was all fairly chaotic last year. The players are having to not only learn a new system, they are also having to learn to trust one another and finally there were signs that it's all coming together.

The Crusaders, by the end of the first half, had been forced to regress to their old ways of attacking side to side. When they have been at their best this season, they have been direct and decisive.

They wanted to be like that at Eden Park, but they couldn't get on the front foot.

They couldn't punch forward the way they wanted and, when they went wide, couldn't force the Blues to make mistakes.

Because the space didn't open up, the Crusaders resorted to just drifting from one side of the field to the other and inevitably became frustrated with their lack of progress and took unnecessary risks to try to break the pattern.

No one better epitomised the improved defensive effort than giant prop Charlie Faumuina who, with quite incredible athleticism, power and agility, scurried from a ruck to hit Johnny McNicholl in a thunderous full-on tackle. The little wing went down hard, took a full minute to get up and then came off with a damaged shoulder.

It was one of those moments that made both sides wonder whether a surprise was in the air. The Crusaders, who had been turning down kickable penalties, were suddenly pointing at the posts every chance they got and the Blues had renewed energy and cohesion.

It was a dog fight from about 30 minutes in - one of those games where it was obvious early that there wouldn't be much to separate the teams.

And so it proved. Kieron Fonotia was able to slip through an Ihaia West tackle with 17 minutes remaining and then pop his pass to the supporting Andy Ellis.

Once they went ahead, the Crusaders never looked back.

Blues 21 (I. West, G. Moala tries; I. West con, 3 pens) Crusaders 26 (N. Nadolo, A. Ellis tries; R. Mo'unga 2 cons, 4 pens). Halftime: 15-10.