The almost forensic precision with which the Crusaders picked apart the Blues' set piece was perhaps the most obvious key to their victory at Eden Park but just as important was the performance of their first-five Richie Mo'unga.

A fortnight after their Aaron Cruden-inspired defeat to the Chiefs at the same ground, a quality Kiwi No 10 again made clear the importance of getting Beauden Barrett into a blue jersey as soon as possible in order to add leadership and structure to a side not without talent but which is still lacking in the basics.

In this case, Mo'unga, on his return from groin and knee niggles which kept him out of his side's defeat to the Chiefs a week before and which are still preventing him from kicking for goal, clearly reveled in the opportunity to shine on one of his favourite grounds against one of his favourite rivals.

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The 25-year-old, who grew up watching the exploits of Carlos Spencer, steered the still slightly rusty defending champions home during their 25-8 win, scoring a second-half try untouched from 22m out and handing one to the similarly excellent Jack Goodhue.

The All Blacks playmaker was clearly enjoying himself, a state of mind he later revealed was a key to his performance. Coach Scott Robertson, for one, enjoyed seeing him back out on the field too.

Crusaders first-five Richie Mo'unga celebrates with Mitchell Drummond and Jack Goodhue. Photo / Photosport
Crusaders first-five Richie Mo'unga celebrates with Mitchell Drummond and Jack Goodhue. Photo / Photosport

Asked whether he saw himself as a leader, a deadpan Mo'unga replied: "Yes and no because I'm probably the most immature in the team.

"If you asked the lads out there – I'm the one at the back of the meeting smirking or joking about something, the guy you can't catch eye contact with in a meeting because you'll start laughing.

"But my job is to be really clear about what we're trying to do on a Saturday. I think I can do that pretty well."

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Is having fun key for him?

"If I didn't enjoy what I was doing I would have stopped playing footy ages ago."

"It was a tough watch from home last week against the Chiefs," he added. "The derby games are the ones you want to be a part of, the ones you remember and grew up watching – especially here at Eden Park.


"There's no love lost there. I remember the Blues v Crusaders games from back in the day – Carlos Spencer scoring in the corner. All that stuff fuels everyone."

While his opposite Stephen Perofeta was excellent early and featured heavily in his side's try for Patrick Tuipulotu before moving to fullback at halftime to allow Harry Plummer to direct the Blues from first-five, the Crusaders' absolute dominance at the lineout in particular was always going to be a huge problem.

The Blues lost six lineouts on their own throw and with their scrum under increasing pressure and the Crusaders' second-half defence virtually immaculate, there was no way back for the home side.

Richie Mo'unga weaves through the Blues' defence. Photo / Photosport
Richie Mo'unga weaves through the Blues' defence. Photo / Photosport

There would have been plenty for Blues coaches Leon MacDonald and Tom Coventry to consider during their long-haul flight to South Africa where they will play the Bulls in Pretoria next Sunday and Stormers in Cape Town a week later.

"Bloody easy," was Mo'unga's succinct reply to what it was like operating behind his pack. "We put their lineouts and set piece under pressure. When you're sitting on the couch at home you don't realise the impact that can have on the game. As a No 10 you lick your lips [at that dominance], it's awesome. But that doesn't just happen. It's the preparation our forwards have done, it's Razor and Jason Ryan putting in a plan to get that result."

Mo'unga, who hopes to resume the kicking duties for his side's match against the Highlanders in Christchurch on Friday, is clearly also well assisted by the leadership and playmaking abilities of in-form fullback David Havili and second-five Goodhue, who laid on George Bridge's try with a perfect offload.

"I don't know where that's come from – he didn't seem to have that pre-mullet. He is getting a lot of confidence and arrogance and I'm not sure I like that but it was a nice offload though, eh," said Mo'unga, whose determination to enjoy himself clearly isn't limited to his on-field rugby duties.