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Crusaders topple the Blues in a hard fought battle

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allblacks.com     06 Jul 2014     Getty Images

So much rode on the contest with the Crusaders seeking to keep the chasing pack at arm's length going into next week's final round, while the Blues still had an outside chance of breaking into the top six.

Losing Sam Whitelock to a calf injury the day before meant the Crusaders lineout had to undergo an adjustment. His influence and athleticism were missed.

It was a special night for Keven Mealamu, the All Blacks hooker becoming the first player to make 150 appearances for a single team in Investec Super Rugby. Unfortunately for him he couldn't mark it with a win.

Colin Slade and Ihaia West traded opening penalties before Nadolo grabbed the game's first try.

Returning from international duty with Fiji were he has excelled, the in-form wing just did enough to ground the ball before being tackled into touch. He was inch perfect when it mattered.

Quick ball at the breakdown handed the Crusaders the majority of possession and they nearly crossed for try number two when Dominic Bird rumbled his way up to just short of the line.

Frank Halai's moment of brilliance however stunned the home crowd, intercepting the pass from Andy Ellis to race 100 metres for the try to put the Blues into the lead.

Slade restored the Crusaders lead with his second penalty after Mealamu had nowhere to go at the ruck but West responded in kind - the Blues pack rumbling well with their maul as both sides jostled for the lead.

Two scrum penalties against the Blues in their half both went unpunished as Slade failed to convert, leaving the visitors with a 13-11 lead at the break.

A slow and scrappy start to the second half saw the Blues reverse their fortunes at the scrum, winning successive penalties but with no points to show for it.

The highlight in some ways, although not for Crusaders fans, was a bruising carry from Ma'a Nonu that left Slade flat out, a week on from suffering a similar hit against the Hurricanes. His departure duly followed as Carter moved back to fly-half.

Carter finally punctured what for 25 minutes had been a woeful, scoreless second half with a penalty to put the Crusaders in front at 14-13.

Nadolo's second try swiftly followed, Kieron Fonotia doing well to offload from the deck as the big Fijian dove over from close range.

There was no coming back for the Blues, their Super Rugby hopes over for another year. The Crusaders meanwhile have a valuable gap ahead of next week's final round and a potential Conference-deciding clash against the Highlanders.