The Crusaders have scored a single try in each half to beat the Blues 15-3 in an edgy, pivotal match in Super Rugby Pacific.

The face-off between the fourth-placed Blues and fifth-placed Crusaders was much-anticipated and watched by a capacity crowd of 17,000 in Christchurch. 

But while it was physically intense, it provided little in terms of excitement.

The Crusaders - who rose to third on the ladder with victory - hogged possession, especially in the first half when the few shreds the Blues obtained were wastefully kicked away by five-eighth Beauden Barrett.

Possession evened out to about 60-40 in favour of the Crusaders after the break but they retained the advantage in terms of territory, with the Blues unable to marshal a coherent attack.

The Blues' defence stayed solid, not least during a 20-minute period in the second half when their captain Dalton Papali'i was red-carded for a high tackle on Crusaders five-eighth Richie Mo'unga. 

They did not concede a point in that period but they missed around 25 tackles overall and that was crucial as the Crusaders punched through midfield with big ball-carrying forwards.

The hosts did not have much to defend against. The Blues made only two visits to their 22 all match, and any nascent attacks from further out were quickly shut down. 

Beauden Barrett set in motion an end-to-end kick-and-chase late in the match but it was shut down on the try line by Crusaders fullback Will Jordan.

"The game was won with our defence," Crusaders captain Scott Barrett said. 

"To hold them to three points was a huge testament. 

"At times it was a bit ugly and we didn't fire too many shots but we closed down their game and a lot of their firepower didn't get into the game."

Thirty minutes passed before the first points came with a try to Crusaders backrower Quinten Strange. 

Beauden Barrett kicked a penalty and Mo'unga another and that ended the first-half scoring.

In the third minute after the restart, winger Leicester Fainga'anuku finished a long-distance try from a wayward Blues' kick but the next 37 minutes were scoreless.

"There was plenty of defence out there tonight and some sore bodies," Blues captain Beauden Barrett said. 

"They just took their opportunities. There weren't many in that game. 

"When we sped the ball up in the second half we started to see some opportunities through the middle but we weren't good enough to execute and finish."

CRUSADERS 15 (TRIES: Strange, Fainga'anuku CONS: Mo'unga 1/2 PENS Mo'unga 1/1)

BLUES 3 (PENS: Barrett 1/1)

CRUSADERS (1-15): Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Tamaiti Williams, Scott Barrett (c), Quinten Strange, Christian Lio-Willie, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace, Mitchell Drummond, Richie Mo'unga, Leicester Fainga'anuku, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod, Will Jordan

RESERVES: Brodie McAlister, Kershawl Sykes-Martin, Oliver Jager, Zach Gallagher, Sione Havili Talitui, Noah Hotham, Fergus Burke, Jack Goodhue

BLUES (1-15): Ofa Tuungafasi, Ricky Riccitelli, Marcel Renata, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Darry, Adrian Choat, Dalton Papalii (c), Hoskins Sotutu, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clarke, Harry Plummer, Rieko Ioane, Mark Telea, Zarn Sullivan, Bryce Heem, AJ Lam, Beauden Barrett

RESERVES: Kurt Eklund, Jordan Lay James Lay, Cameron Suafoa, Akira Ioane, Sam Noock, Bryce Heem, AJ Lam

Referee: Nic Berry

Assistant Referees: James Doleman, Jono Bredin