In a close but error filled game, the Crusaders beat the Blues by 26-22 in front of a capacity crowd at AMI Stadium. The Blues were desperately unlucky, having two close calls go against them and another go in favour of the home team.
It is often said that rugby is a game of inches, but tonight it was a game of millimetres as the Blues were denied two extremely close tries by the Television Match Official, while the Crusaders were awarded one where they appeared to be in touch.
The first incident took place in the 65th minute, as Crusaders' winger Sean Maitland tip toed down the touch line after regathering a Tim Bateman chip, setting up a try to replacement hooker Ti'i Paulo. Replays suggested that Maitland may have put a toe on the line, but assistant referee Kane McBride was right on the spot and the camera angle was by no means conclusive.
Just three minutes later the Blues appeared to have crashed over in the corner through captain Troy Flavell, only to have the try ruled out by the TMO as Flavell's body hit the touch line a split second before he grounded the ball. Of all the contentious incidents in the game, this was the most clear cut and the officials got it right.
Moments later the Blues had another try ruled out by the TMO, this time Anthony Tuitavake was hauled down by Kade Poki a blade of grass short of the line, and from the ensuing ruck the Blues failed to score. After consulting the TMO, referee Lyndon Bray ruled Tuitavake short of the line and awarded the Crusaders a free kick, a decision which Blues' coach David Nucifora described as "soul destroying", but it is correct under the experimental laws.
If there was any doubt that the Crusaders' back-line misses Dan Carter, the evidence was plain to see as the youngster stumbled, fumbled and bumbled their way through the game, bombing at least two tries, making too many handling errors and kicking away too much possession.
In the end it was the Crusaders' ability to absorb the pressure from the Blues and counter attack that made the difference as they came away with the win, scoring four tries to three. The Blues dominated at the scrum and breakdown, but were unable to get their lineout working, losing almost as many as they won.
This win puts the Crusaders 11 points clear at the top of the table, although the Sharks can close that gap tomorrow night against the Waratahs, while the Blues will need to claim maximum points from their remaining three games if they are to stay in the semi final picture.