TOKYO – The table-topping Crusaders put a torrid week behind them to hold off the Auckland Blues 19-11 on Saturday.
With two matches remaining for the Crusaders they have opened up a 13-point lead at the top of the table over the Wellington Hurricanes, who have three games left.
The Crusaders, who have been under the microscope following allegations of offensive behaviour on their recent South African tour, looked comfortable at 16-6 before a late Rieko Ioane try gave the visitors the chance of an upset win.
However a Richie Mo'unga penalty with four minutes remaining sealed the outcome for the defending champions in a match played with a heavy dew which restricted scoring opportunities. There was only one try to each side.
"It wasn't pretty at times," Crusaders skipper Sam Whitelock said.
"We had a few challenges coming home from South Africa, a short turnaround, a few of the boys had a lack of sleep this week."
But two All Blacks identified in the off-field accusations levelled at the Crusaders, Mo'unga and George Bridge, appeared unaffected by the attention and played starring roles.
After David Havili waltzed through an ineffectual Blues defence to have the Crusaders on attack from the kick-off, the Blues defence held off repeated raids on the line and it was left to Mo'unga to get the Crusaders on the board with two penalties.
The fly-half also featured in the only try of the first-half with a well-weighted chip kick which Ryan Crotty gathered to send Bryn Hall away for the try.
The Blues, who are at the bottom of the New Zealand conference, responded with a penalty to Harry Plummer for the Crusaders to turn with a 13-3 lead.
Bridge and Mo'unga both crossed the line in the early stages of the second half only for the tries to be disallowed because of earlier infringements.
Plummer and Mo'unga then exchanged penalties before Ioane's try and Mo'unga's fourth penalty.AFP