It would have been obvious to most watching two good teams swapping the lead at what became a raucous Eden Park last night that there is something different about the Blues this year and it was perhaps Crusaders coach Scott Robertson who put it best afterwards.

"There was a lot more detail there – they were really clear with what they were doing," Robertson said of the Blues. "I was impressed with them. They had the right people in the right places and you could see their clear game structure; probably more than in other years."

For that you can thank new head coach Leon MacDonald and new forwards coach Tom Coventry, along with the franchise's other assistants including Tana Umaga, who was in charge of the team for the past three years.

They will have got on the plane for Durban and next weekend's match against the Sharks still mulling over what went wrong but with a sense of excitement at the potential of this team. Adding to that is the fact all of the 23 who played last night made the trip, plus prop Lua Li, loose forward Hoskins Sotutu and backs Tanielu Tele'a and Caleb Clarke.


The result may have been familiar – a 22-24 defeat, the Blues' 20th consecutive loss to a New Zealand team in this competition – but they should have won it and indeed most would have bet on it with two minutes remaining when replacement first-five Harry Plummer, still only 20, lined up a penalty from about 40m out only to push it wide.

Plummer missed an earlier conversion too, but his high-profile opposite Richie Mo'unga had a shocking night with the boot as well, and besides, the Blues had other chances to get across the line.

One of the big problems with the Blues last year was a lack of workrate – especially when choosing whether or not to chase back on defence to tackle or support an under-pressure teammate. When the lungs are burning it's easy to take shortcuts but champion players and teams don't and statistically the Crusaders were among the best in this area.

There were few signs of that at Eden Park and the Crusaders had to dig far deeper than they had perhaps expected in order to get the job done. In the final, frantic, minutes they looked rattled in the extreme and it was desperation and a bit of luck which got them home.

"It's frustrating, obviously, not to get the result we were looking for," MacDonald said afterwards. "It was just a good game – it ebbed and flowed, the momentum, from both teams.

"A couple of calls probably didn't help us and there were a couple of plays that we didn't execute. It will be frustrating to look at the video, but on the flipside of that there were parts of the game in which we were very good and put on a lot of pressure against a very good team. If we can do that for longer periods of time we will be hard to stop."

The backline needs a bit of refining, but the Blues' pack appears to have the power and grit to trouble every team in the competition.

All Blacks tight forwards Karl Tu'inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi and Patrick Tuipulotu, plus the likes of Akira Ioane and newcomer Tom Robinson are all extremely large and good at what they do. The Blues scrum hurt the Crusaders' at times, although they did concede the second of their two penalty tries here.

Ioane, celebrating his 50th game for the Blues, was a man possessed with the ball and Northlander Robinson, 24, possesses just the sort of mongrel that this team needs.

"That's a good pack – that Crusaders pack has carried that team to two titles in two years and they showed that tonight," MacDonald said. "They were put under pressure at scrum time and then they responded – that's why they're the defending champions. There's a lot for us to take away from that as well."

MacDonald wanted two wins from the first three games, which means the Blues will have to beat the Sharks at Kings Park and Jaguares in Buenos Aires. At this rate they will be favourites to do so.