Down but not out was Blues coach Leon MacDonald's summation after their 28-34 loss to the Crusaders in Super Rugby Pacific at Eden Park on Saturday night.

It was the Blues' first home game of the season and lived up to all the pre-game hype as more than 23,000 turned out to watch a game in which some technical refereeing decisions came into play.

The Blues had the winning of the game, but two balls lost over the goal line by lock James Tucker and No8 Hoskins Sotutu, respectively, in the final quarter allowed the Crusaders to hold on.

MacDonald said the Blues didn't need to go back to the drawing board. They are still a point ahead of the Crusaders on the points table, and aspects of their play showed their potential.

"Some of our attacking play, we're shifting to space a lot better than we have done. We found more space with the way we kicked and passed. 

"Our breakdown was a lot better too. If we continue to keep growing in these areas, we're going to cause a lot of teams trouble.

"We had our opportunities. We showed a lot with a spirited second half. There was a lot of guts and character to all but take it – losing the ball over the line a couple of times.

"We're bitterly disappointed not to get the win, but we are getting better. I can see it in the way we're training and the way the leaders are stepping up throughout the week. There's still plenty of good stuff we can be proud of there."

In the close-quarter games, especially between the New Zealand sides, there was an element of luck, and MacDonald said during their 15-game winning streak last year, they won games they should have lost and, this time lost a game they could have won.

"We know we didn't get the rub of the green in certain areas, and we don't make excuses about that because we create our own luck, and if we were a bit better we could've won that game."

Captain and flanker Dalton Papali'i acknowledged that because of the rivalry the sides had created, it was always tough to lose to the Crusaders.

"Losing is never easy. I can't fault our effort. We got over twice and dropped the ball. It's little moments like that we need to execute; they can change the game.

"We're there, but we just need to tweak a few things. We're pretty happy with the way we're playing, it's just those little moments."