The Crusaders have moved back to the top of Super Rugby, overcoming some valiant defence by the Blues before prevailing 26-21 in Auckland.
The win at Eden Park lifts the Crusaders above previous leaders the Chiefs, who lost to the Waratahs in Sydney on Friday.
But the Christchurch-based side faced some tenacious opponents on Saturday night and pulled away only in the last 10 minutes thanks to two Richie Mo’unga penalties.
For the Blues, the loss is a huge blow to their hopes of making the playoffs, leaving them eight points behind the Highlanders, who hold the last wildcard in the Australasian group.
After surviving an energetic start by the Blues, the Crusaders hit the front in the 10th minute through giant winger Nemani Nadolo.
The Fijian, returning from a four-week ban for a dangerous tackle, began the attack when he pulled in a kick and returned the ball.
The Crusaders worked the phases before Nadolo touched down in the corner.
Behind 7-0, the Blues hit back when blindside flanker Jerome Kaino charged down fly-half Mo’unga’s clearing kick, and Mo’unga’s opposite number, Ihaia West, produced a step to score.
West couldn’t convert from wide out and the Blues were forced into a period of tough defence.
Twice the Crusaders turned down shots at goal to go for the corner and twice the Blues kept them out, the first time repelling more than a dozen phases.
The home side’s reward was to hit the front in the shadow of halftime, with centre George Moala powering his way over for a converted try.
The match turned into an arm wrestle as Mo’unga and West ticked the score over with penalties before the Crusaders edged ahead again midway through the second spell.
Centre Kieron Fonotia’s incisive break was finished off by halfback Andy Ellis, and Mo’unga added the extras for a two-point lead.
In the 67th minute, the Crusaders again turned down a shot at goal to go for the corner and again they couldn’t convert.
But two further Mo’unga penalties meant the Blues were faced with scoring twice with six minutes to go.
They managed a bonus point when inside centre Piers Francis landed a post-hooter penalty.