The Crusaders and Blues may be heading in opposite directions on the Super Rugby table but the relief among the defending champions after their win in Christchurch was obvious due to an extraordinary week but also the resilience of the visitors.

The Blues won little possession or territory in the first half and yet their grit in repelling the Crusaders mauls and attacking scrums meant they kept the damage to a minimum and themselves in the game.

A measure of the Crusaders' respect was their willingness to take penalty shots at goal. Richie Mo'unga was successful with four of five penalties — the most he has attempted in a game all season. It wasn't until his final penalty in the 77th minute which stretched the lead to 19-11 that the Crusaders felt safe.

"You have to hand it to the Blues, they were tough and resilient and ground it out," Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said. "We had a lot of possession in the first half and attacked their line for a long time. [We had] a lot of mauls, some really big scrum penalties, but they held us out and we couldn't break away from that 10-point buffer we had.

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"The Blues defended our mauls extremely well, exceptionally well. They've done a lot of homework on it. Tom Coventry has obviously spent a lot of time with that forward pack, and that defence in general was pretty stout, so you have to take the three points when you can get them."

For Blues coach Leon MacDonald, the result was a blow after his team convincingly beat the Chiefs at Eden Park a week earlier. But the former Crusaders assistant coach knows better than most how hard it is to get a good result in Christchurch, especially at this time of year.

"To come here and withstand the pressure and show a lot of grit on the line with our defence as well and hold them out ... I think when they started taking the points, that was a bit of a reward for some of our good stuff," MacDonald said.

"We started growing in the second half — we started pinching some of their lineout balls, which was good. In the first half, we just never played. Their pressure at the breakdown and line speed ... our game management wasn't quite there in the first half."

It was clear from the Crusaders' intensity from the kickoff that they were determined to right a few perceived wrongs emanating out of Cape Town recently. Jordan Taufua in particular was fired up.

But while he and his side may have been fuelled by anger and a willingness to make a point, they were cold-blooded in their decision-making, and brilliantly led once again by Mo'unga.

That wasn't the case for their only loss this season — against the Waratahs in Sydney in the wake of the mosque shootings in Christchurch, although, perhaps significantly, Mo'unga was on a rest week.

"We'll take it," Robertson said of the win. "It could have been totally different if the result didn't go our way. We went through it with the Waratahs week as well.

"We were pretty emotional, as we were [yesterday], but we didn't get the execution or tactical side of it right in Sydney when it started to rain in the warm-up. We got it right [against the Blues] and got the win."

For MacDonald and the Blues, there were no competition points but there is a suggestion they are on the right track as far as their defence is concerned.

Their maul defence and scrum in particular will be tested by the Bulls at Eden Park on Friday. In 13th position, they are unlikely candidates for a playoff place but the door hasn't quite shut yet.

"The maul is a big one and the scrum," MacDonald said of where the Bulls would target them. "We had our issues a little bit at scrum time and they're pretty strong there, obviously. Our maul defence in particular was fantastic but we're going to have to be on our game there, they're going to be testing us [on Friday]."