The Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has heaped praise on wingers Sean Maitland and Zac Guildford and fullback Israel Dagg, claiming the young back three were the difference in the red and blacks 34-16 win over the Chiefs in Mt Maunganui.
Although it was the Crusaders' least impressive performance of the season the scrappy bonus point win keeps Blackadder's men firmly at the top of the New Zealand conference and second in the overall Super Rugby standings.
The All Black captain Richie McCaw got through 30 minutes of rugby unscathed in the fast-paced match in which both sides' eagerness to keep the ball alive led to numerous turnovers, but it was the trio of Maitland, Guildford and Dagg who had their coach waxing lyrical.
Dagg was at his counter-attacking best with a significant hand in three of the Crusaders tries, exploiting the open nature of the game to help set up tries to centre Robbie Fruean, winger Maitland and replacement halfback Andy Ellis for the Crusaders, while replacement lock Luke Romano grabbed the bonus point try late on.
Such was the volatility of the contest at the breakdown, that all three first half tries, two to the Crusaders through Fruean and Maitland and one to Chiefs' winger Lelia Masaga, came from turnovers and sweeping counter-attacks down field.
The Crusaders first five Matt Berquist converted both tries and added a penalty, while counterpart Mike Delany converted Masaga's try before he added a late penalty on the cusp of half-time to reduce their deficit to 17-13 at the break.
The match continued to be played at breakneck speed with the defences and errors nullifying any real attacking threats before Ellis gave the Crusaders breathing space.
While Delany slotted a penalty to make it 24-16, he missed another shortly after that would have brought his side within a converted try of grabbing victory.
Berquist added his second penalty after the Crusaders had been camped in the Chiefs' half before Romano's late try blew the margin out to 18 points.
In Friday night's other game the Highlanders continued the South Island's winning ways, thumping the Rebels 40-18 in Melbourne to claim the bonus point and climb above the Blues into second in the New Zealand conference and third in the overall standings.
But it's come at the loss of first five Colin Slade to another broken jaw, almost certainly ending his Super Rugby season and also jeopardising his World Cup chances as Dan Carter's backup in the All Blacks.