Cape Town - The Crusaders needed luck and two penalty tries to launch their Super Rugby title defence with a narrow 24-22 victory over the Blues Saturday.
The Blues, on home ground in Auckland, were twice forced into crucial errors during the tense encounter when their forwards were under pressure on their own line.
"We just had a little bit of luck there at the end, which you need sometimes," said the relieved Crusaders skipper Matt Todd.
"It went back and forth in that second half. Both teams scored good tries when they got down in the opposition ends. So we just had to make sure we were the last one's to get points."
The defending champions led 12-3 at the break before an explosive second-half start saw the Blues score twice for a 17-12 lead.
But they could not maintain the momentum and allowed the visitors back into the game.
"It was there for us to take," a frustrated Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said.
"We weren't clinical enough in certain areas. When we took our shot we came off second best. We didn't keep it consistent enough."
The Blues, looking a much more polished outfit after their second-last finish last season, dominated possession in the first half.
But even without senior All Blacks Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock and Codie Taylor, the Crusaders broke ahead early, responding to an Otere Black penalty with two tries.
The first to right wing Manasa Mataele from a Bryn Hall cross kick and the second was a penalty try when the Blues collapsed a lineout drive.
The Blues opened the second half with Akira Ioane finishing off a 60-metre counter-attack for their opening try. Ofa Tu'ungafasi crashed over minutes later in a wake-up call for the Crusaders.
A George Bridge break sent Mataele over for his second try and then a monster Crusaders scrum forced the Blues to concede a second penalty try.
A try to replacement Blues scrum-half Augustine Pulu narrowed the gap but fly-half debutant Harry Plummer missed chances to level or snatch victory just before full-time when a conversion and penalty both went wide.
Tries: Akira Ioane, Ofa Tuungafasi, Augustine Pulu
Conversions: Otere Black, Harry Plummer
Tries: Manasa Mataele (2), Penalty Try (2)
15 Michael Collins, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Ma’a Nonu, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman
Substitutes: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Matt Matich, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Sonny Bill Williams
15 David Havili, 14 Manasa Mataele, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Joe Moody
Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Tom Sanders, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Will Jordan