Crusaders coach Scott Robertson beamed with pride, as he reflected on his team's gutsy defensive performance in Saturday's win over the Blues.
The southerners repelled relentless waves of Blues attack throughout the second half - particularly in one final period when they rallied a man short to preserve their line and their lead, as they held on for a 34-28 win in a pulsating contest.
The Blues dominated possession in the second stanza, enjoying a mammoth 70 percent of the share.
But the visitors displayed every ounce their championship mettle as they battled for every inch, twice forcing the ball free over the line to deny the Blues what initially had seemed the try that may setup a last-gasp win.
"The scramble and the care shown in the in-goal - you couldn't put [the ball] down," said Robertson after the game. "Those moments right to the end, I just love those. The hugs afterwards, the appreciation[from teammates] showing how much it means.
"They were big plays - big moments in the game.
"That win was really important for us for a lot of reasons. We wanted to own the position we're in. I think the efforts led by [Scott Barrett] were amazing, so we're really proud and pleased."
Captain Scott Barrett was in the thick of that stoic defensive effort and equally impressed by the desperation his colleagues displayed to salvage a critical win.
“I think in the first half we might have had the better of that half and then the Blues threw everything at us and we were lucky to get away with it really," Barrett admitted.
"They get into space and they're lethal - with the calibre of athletes in their backline.
"They pushed us right to the end in that second half and we really had to dig deep with our defence and a couple of moments we just hung on.
"Proud of the effort."
An uncharacteristically shaky start to their title defence meant the Crusaders ran on to Eden Park starting down the barrel of a 1-3 record.
But the challenge of facing their old rivals saw them - as they so often do - rise to the occasion with a vintage performance that made an overdue statement to the rest of the competition - the kind of gritty win that can kickstart a campaign.
"I think in that first half there was a 20-minute period where we played the best footy of our season," said Barrett.
"Last week was disappointing, a decision right on fulltime [against the Drua]. But I think reflecting on that game and even the last couple, we're probably not where we'd like to be but we've acknowledged that.
"Round four. Blues at home. It's probably a timely sort of game for us to own it and I think we were pretty good tonight."
While a host of injuries haven't helped the Crusaders cause, those promoted as replacements have stepped up and delivered
Robertson singled out fullback Fergus Burke and second-five Dallas McLeod as two have made the most of their opportunities, while hailing hat-trick hero Leicester Fainga'anuku's brilliance on the wing.
"Since [Burke] has been in there he's just owned it . He's a second pivot. He can kick. He's good under the high ball. Really stoked for him.
"Dallas McLeod was amazing tonight. I think we've had five or six debutants already this year and they've been awesome.
"[Fainga'anuku] is a power athlete. He can create. He can keep on his feet and give you those extra metres after contact and he's a tryscorer. It's like watching a kid scoring five or six tries a game and everyone else is running around behind them, and he's brought that to this level.
"We're really pleased with him. He was carrying a bit of a rib injury and he just played through that pain incredibly well."
Robertson admitted there were plenty of sore bodies in the changing room but confident none of his men had suffered any major injury.
The Crusaders now return home to face the surging Brumbies on Friday, when they'll face another stern test of their improvement.2023-03-18T18:46:08Z dg43tfdfdgfd