Crusaders loom large on Blues' horizon

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It didn't help that the defending three-time champions were handed a 15-25 defeat by the Chiefs in Hamilton.


Blues coach Leon MacDonald was expecting, as a result of his Crusaders background, that their loss to the Chiefs would add 'a little flavour' to their game at Eden Park on Friday.


"Any Crusaders-Blues clash is a big one for us," he said.


It was one of the first games players looked at the draw to see when they would be playing the Crusaders.


"They've always rebounded well, especially under Razor's [coach Scott Robertson] tenure after a loss so we expect nothing less.


"We always expect them to turn up at their best and that's the way we've got to prepare. We've had a focus right through the pre-season and our first two games about getting our game right and working on our game.


"We've just got to prepare for the Crusaders to be at the top of their game for us and that's our focus really," he said.


"We were extremely pleased to get the win. We've obviously got a tough start to the season, with the travel, off to South Africa in a couple of weeks and the Crusaders next week so to pick up the win to get us under way was crucial for us," he said.


He was also pleased that areas the side had concentrated on since their first-up 29-37 loss to the Chiefs were more effective and to finish strongly to pick up a bonus point showed they were a lot better in that aspect as well.


Hat-trick tryscorer Mark Telea was a great story, MacDonald said. He had come a long way in a short amount of time.


"We saw him in the Mitre 10 Cup firstly and through the pre-season training. He's in amazing physical condition. He's a quiet guy by nature but he's really come out of his shell in the last two weeks so we knew it was sitting there waiting to come out so it is really pleasing when the guys can show everyone else how talented they are," he said.


MacDonald was pleased with the way his scrum performed, never more than at a critical scrum under the Blues posts when the Waratahs sensed a scoring chance.


"It was a critical time in the game. It was a little moment that you can look back and if they had scored seven points there it would have been a real arm wrestle.


"It showed a real collective connectivity. When they [the Waratahs] called for the scrum our boys bristled a little bit and got excited by that challenge. The scrum has been a strength. We had a strong scrum last year but to lose Alex Hodgman who has been a bit of a cornerstone of our scrum but for Karl [Tu'inukuafe] to stand up like he did and play some big minutes was outstanding," he said.


Conditions also determined the approach the side took. Heavy rain fell in the 48 hours ahead of the game and while it eased at the start of the game it came in and out later. The wind was also swirling and that was why the Blues launched high, contestable kicks.


Many players had played well and there was greater cohesion in combinations. He felt first five-eighths Stephen Perofeta had done a fine job in getting the Blues into the right areas of the field to secure the win.


"Some of the accuracy of our kicking was outstanding at times. Obviously there was a couple that weren't but by and large it was a big step forward," he said.


The intensity and relentlessness the side had achieved was also pleasing and if the side was able to manage that level of energy usage each week they would be a match for anyone, MacDonald said.


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