Crusaders march on as the Blues bow out

Colin Slade shows his courage on a scything run against the Highlanders in round 19 of Super Rugby.
Colin Slade shows his courage on a scything run against the Highlanders in round 19 of Super Rugby.
Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo on the charge against the Blues at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo on the charge against the Blues at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo fights for the ball in midair with Highlanders opposite Richard Buckman.
Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo fights for the ball in midair with Highlanders opposite Richard Buckman.
Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty has a cut at the Blues' line with Andy Ellis in support.
Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty has a cut at the Blues' line with Andy Ellis in support.
New Zealand's top first five eighth Dan Carter on the break against the Highlanders.
New Zealand's top first five eighth Dan Carter on the break against the Highlanders.
Nemani Nadolo crashes over the line for the Crusaders under pressure from a stern Blues defence.
Nemani Nadolo crashes over the line for the Crusaders under pressure from a stern Blues defence.
Israel Dagg shows his deft touch, unloading the ball while aerial in the tackle of Highlanders wing Patrick Osbourne.
Israel Dagg shows his deft touch, unloading the ball while aerial in the tackle of Highlanders wing Patrick Osbourne.
A Crusaders horseman spurs cheers from the Christchurch crowd ahead of their clash with the Highlanders.
A Crusaders horseman spurs cheers from the Christchurch crowd ahead of their clash with the Highlanders.
Blues star Ma'a Nonu is tackled by Dan Carter of the Crusaders during their round 18 Super Rugby match in Christchurch.
Blues star Ma'a Nonu is tackled by Dan Carter of the Crusaders during their round 18 Super Rugby match in Christchurch.
Andy Ellis, centre, of the Crusaders is tackled by Blues players Tony Woodcock (left) and Luke Braid (right) during his side's win in Christchurch.
Andy Ellis, centre, of the Crusaders is tackled by Blues players Tony Woodcock (left) and Luke Braid (right) during his side's win in Christchurch.
Crusaders lock Dominic Bird powers through a number of would-be Blues defenders at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Crusaders lock Dominic Bird powers through a number of would-be Blues defenders at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
Jerome Kaino of the Blues is tackled by Andy Ellis of the Crusaders during their round 18 Super Rugby match in Christchurch.
Jerome Kaino of the Blues is tackled by Andy Ellis of the Crusaders during their round 18 Super Rugby match in Christchurch.
Nemani Nadolo of the Crusaders dives over to score a try against the Blues in round 18.
Nemani Nadolo of the Crusaders dives over to score a try against the Blues in round 18.
Crusaders second-five Dan Carter is tackled by All Blacks team-mate and Blues prop Tony Woodcock.
Crusaders second-five Dan Carter is tackled by All Blacks team-mate and Blues prop Tony Woodcock.
Ryan Crotty, captain of the Crusaders, is tackled by Ardie Savea of the Hurricanes during their Super Rugby clash at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Ryan Crotty, captain of the Crusaders, is tackled by Ardie Savea of the Hurricanes during their Super Rugby clash at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Andy Ellis of the Crusaders and Dane Coles of the Hurricanes scuffle during their round 17 Super Rugby match.
Andy Ellis of the Crusaders and Dane Coles of the Hurricanes scuffle during their round 17 Super Rugby match.
Dan Carter of the Crusaders looks to make a break against the Hurricanes during his first Super Rugby appearance of the season.
Dan Carter of the Crusaders looks to make a break against the Hurricanes during his first Super Rugby appearance of the season.
Julian Savea celebrates the Hurricanes' win over the Crusaders during their Round 17 Super Rugby match at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Julian Savea celebrates the Hurricanes' win over the Crusaders during their Round 17 Super Rugby match at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Johnny McNicholl of the Crusaders scores a try during the round 13 Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Crusaders.
Johnny McNicholl of the Crusaders scores a try during the round 13 Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Crusaders.
Johnny McNicholl of the Crusaders celebrates with team mate Israel Dagg after scoring a try during the round 13 Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Crusaders.
Johnny McNicholl of the Crusaders celebrates with team mate Israel Dagg after scoring a try during the round 13 Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Crusaders.
Luke Whitelock of the Crusaders breaks away from the defence to score a try during the round 13 Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Crusaders.
Luke Whitelock of the Crusaders breaks away from the defence to score a try during the round 13 Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Crusaders.
Richie McCaw of the Crusaders takes the lineout during the round 13 Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Crusaders.
Richie McCaw of the Crusaders takes the lineout during the round 13 Super Rugby match between the Reds and the Crusaders.
Quade Cooper of the Reds is tackled by Wyatt Crockett of the Crusaders.
Quade Cooper of the Reds is tackled by Wyatt Crockett of the Crusaders.
Nemani Nadolo of the Crusaders dives over to score a try during the round 12 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Brumbies.
Nemani Nadolo of the Crusaders dives over to score a try during the round 12 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Brumbies.
Sam Whitelock of the Crusaders is tackled during the round 12 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Brumbies.
Sam Whitelock of the Crusaders is tackled during the round 12 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Brumbies.
Colin Slade of the Crusaders kicks a conversion during the round 12 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Brumbies.
Colin Slade of the Crusaders kicks a conversion during the round 12 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Brumbies.
Pat McCabe of the Brumbies is tackled by Israel Dagg of the Crusaders.
Pat McCabe of the Brumbies is tackled by Israel Dagg of the Crusaders.
Samuel Whitelock of the Crusaders has a word with a team-mate during the Chiefs and Crusaders Super Rugby match.
Samuel Whitelock of the Crusaders has a word with a team-mate during the Chiefs and Crusaders Super Rugby match.
Willi Heinz of the Crusaders in action during the Chiefs and Crusaders Super Rugby match.
Willi Heinz of the Crusaders in action during the Chiefs and Crusaders Super Rugby match.
Brodie Retallick of the Chiefs and Samuel Whitelock of the Crusaders wrestle off the ball during the Chiefs and Crusaders Super Rugby match.
Brodie Retallick of the Chiefs and Samuel Whitelock of the Crusaders wrestle off the ball during the Chiefs and Crusaders Super Rugby match.
Nemani Nandolo of the Crusaders storms down the sideline during the Chiefs and Crusaders Super Rugby match.
Nemani Nandolo of the Crusaders storms down the sideline during the Chiefs and Crusaders Super Rugby match.
Ryan Crotty swats the Cheetahs defence out of his way in Bloemfontein.
Ryan Crotty swats the Cheetahs defence out of his way in Bloemfontein.
Crusaders captain Kieran Read breaks away from the back of a maul against the Cheetahs.
Crusaders captain Kieran Read breaks away from the back of a maul against the Cheetahs.
Crusaders halfback Willi Heinz floats a pass out in his teams clash with the Cheetahs.
Crusaders halfback Willi Heinz floats a pass out in his teams clash with the Cheetahs.
Crusaders No 10 Colin Slade goes on a run against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Crusaders No 10 Colin Slade goes on a run against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock takes a charge at the Lions defence.
Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock takes a charge at the Lions defence.
George Whitelock and Matt Todd of Crusaders smash Lions No 8 Warren Whitley.
George Whitelock and Matt Todd of Crusaders smash Lions No 8 Warren Whitley.
Nepo Laulala of Crusaders tackling Faf de Klerk of Lions during the teams' clash at Ellis Park.
Nepo Laulala of Crusaders tackling Faf de Klerk of Lions during the teams' clash at Ellis Park.
The Crusaders' Kieron Fonotia and Owen Franks get to grips with Schalk van der Merwe of the Lions.
The Crusaders' Kieron Fonotia and Owen Franks get to grips with Schalk van der Merwe of the Lions.
Wyatt Crockett of the Crusaders tries to offload under pressure from Jeremy Thrush of the Hurricanes.
Wyatt Crockett of the Crusaders tries to offload under pressure from Jeremy Thrush of the Hurricanes.
Ryan Crotty makes a break for the Crusaders against the Hurricanes in Christchurch.
Ryan Crotty makes a break for the Crusaders against the Hurricanes in Christchurch.
Nemani Nadolo makes a charge down the wing for the Crusaders against the Hurricanes.
Nemani Nadolo makes a charge down the wing for the Crusaders against the Hurricanes.
The Crusaders players look dejected after losing to the Hurricanes at the death.
The Crusaders players look dejected after losing to the Hurricanes at the death.
Israel Dagg attempts to get himself out of the grasp of a Melbourne Rebel.
Israel Dagg attempts to get himself out of the grasp of a Melbourne Rebel.
Crusaders Kieran Read (left) and Nafi Tuitavake rush to congratulate hooker Ben Funnell after scoring.
Crusaders Kieran Read (left) and Nafi Tuitavake rush to congratulate hooker Ben Funnell after scoring.
Crusaders first-five Colin Slade fires a pass to his outside backs.
Crusaders first-five Colin Slade fires a pass to his outside backs.
Israel Dagg unleashes a punt downfield.
Israel Dagg unleashes a punt downfield.
Captain Kieran Read chats to his forward pack during a break against the Rebels.
Captain Kieran Read chats to his forward pack during a break against the Rebels.
Johnny McNicholl of the Crusaders celebrates the final whistle following his side's comeback win over the Stormers.
Johnny McNicholl of the Crusaders celebrates the final whistle following his side's comeback win over the Stormers.
Stormers captain Jean de Villiers and the Crusaders' Kieran Read await a referee's decision during their clash in Christchurch.
Stormers captain Jean de Villiers and the Crusaders' Kieran Read await a referee's decision during their clash in Christchurch.
Sam Whitelock reaches highest to claim lineout ball for the Crusaders against the Chiefs.
Sam Whitelock reaches highest to claim lineout ball for the Crusaders against the Chiefs.
The Crusaders cheerleaders get the crowd going before kick-off against the Stormers.
The Crusaders cheerleaders get the crowd going before kick-off against the Stormers.
Crusaders prop Tim Perry is taken down by Charlie Faumuina.
Crusaders prop Tim Perry is taken down by Charlie Faumuina.
Colin Slade celebrates his first half try against the Blues.
Colin Slade celebrates his first half try against the Blues.
Richie McCaw eyes up a tackle on George Moala before leaving the field injured.
Richie McCaw eyes up a tackle on George Moala before leaving the field injured.
Crusaders Colin Slade (right) and Reynold Lee-Lo fail to secure the ball under pressure from George Moala.
Crusaders Colin Slade (right) and Reynold Lee-Lo fail to secure the ball under pressure from George Moala.
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg runs at Liam Messam during the season opener.
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg runs at Liam Messam during the season opener.
The expression of Richie McCaw's face says it all after the Crusaders missed seven penalties in an 18-10 loss to the Chiefs.
The expression of Richie McCaw's face says it all after the Crusaders missed seven penalties in an 18-10 loss to the Chiefs.
Crusaders wing Nafi Tuitavake runs away from Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick.
Crusaders wing Nafi Tuitavake runs away from Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick.
Almost 17,000 Crusaders fans packed into Christchurch Stadium for the season opener.
Almost 17,000 Crusaders fans packed into Christchurch Stadium for the season opener.

The power of Nemani Nadolo is likely to have killed the Blues' Super Rugby title hopes after the Crusaders won a brutal encounter 21-13 in Christchurch tonight.

While the victory should guarantee the Crusaders a place in the playoffs, the Blues, who couldn't even salvage a losing bonus point, appear to have little hope of advancing into the finals and must rely on some wild mathematical permutations to see them through.

If Nadolo was the sledgehammer, the classy Dan Carter was the magical touch inside the velvet glove as he unleashed all his skills at AMI Stadium and set-up the second - and crucial - try by unloading a magical pass for the massive Fijian wing with seven minutes left.

MAGIC TOUCH: Dan Carter showed he has lost none of his powers on this return to Super Rugby action.
MAGIC TOUCH: Dan Carter showed he has lost none of his powers on this return to Super Rugby action.

The Crusaders rushed Kieran Read, Israel Dagg, Owen Franks and Carter back for this encounter but it was left wing Nadolo, who scored both tries, who proved the star performer.

At times the only way to describe this battle, which was peppered with messy scrums and mystifying penalties by referee Glen Jackson, was brutal and the Blues will have been shattered to leave the South Island city without a win since 2004.

Both forward packs flayed at each other manfully, whether it be with their clean-outs or big tackles, and one of the most encouraging sights for all New Zealanders was that of Crusaders captain Read proving he is nearing his best following concussion issues.

Read was replaced around the 60 minute mark but his trademark offloads out wide were valuable and he wasn't gun-shy in contact.

Losing Sam Whitelock with a calf muscle injury was a late setback for the home side, coach Todd Blackadder keeping the All Black lock's withdrawal secret until just before kick-off.

Whitelock's exit had the potential to be detrimental to their lineout but his replacement Jimmy Tupou produced a strong performance, contributing with ball carries and clean-outs, while the Blues' Patrick Tuipulotu proved why his international stocks are on the up.

Some of the wrestling around the ruck, where men like Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Jerome Kaino and Luke Braid ripped and tore at anything that twitched, was ferocious and Colin Slade was flattened when an attempted tackle on Ma'a Nonu went horribly wrong.

Slade was replaced, allowing Carter to move to first five-eighth after starting at No 12, and his first penalty attempt in around a year for the Crusaders had an immediate impact when it put his side ahead 14-13 in the 67th minute.

The temperature had been about 20 degrees cooler than what he had experienced in the Pacific Islands but Nadolo, who missed the previous weekend's loss to the Hurricanes because he was representing Fiji, still generated immense heat on attack.

With the Crusaders opting to exploit the Blues out wide - the return of Dagg in his comeback game from a knee injury added some much-needed oomph - the 125kg Nadolo was immediately called to arms.

An early touch resulted in him scattering Blues defenders like kicked mushrooms and he collected the Crusaders' only try of the first half when flanker Matt Todd unloaded an excellent pass to put him over in the corner.

There should have been more for the 14,000-strong crowd to celebrate when another ominous Crusaders attack pinned the Blues on their own line and looked certain to score; that was until right wing Frank Halai proved the proverbial gob-stopper by intercepting an Andy Ellis pass and racing 95m to nail a converted try.

That was a major blow for the Crusaders; instead of leading 13-3 with the conversion to come they trailed 10-8.

Slade could have put the Crusaders ahead at halftime but uncharacteristically missed a kickable penalty on the bell after also being unable to convert Nadolo's try and missing an earlier penalty.

Crusaders 21 (Nemani Nadolo 2 tries; Colin Slade 2 pens, Dan Carter pen, con) Blues 13 (Frank Halai try; Ihaia West con, 2 pens). HT: 11-13.

AS IT HAPPENED 

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