It's unlikely that the Crusaders imagined beating the Sunwolves would be such hard work.

And it really was hard work – to such an extent that for quite a long period it wasn't certain they would even win at all.

It certainly wasn't their best night. They gave plenty of their fringe players a run and introduced Israel Dagg and Owen Franks after their long injury breaks.

And they played like they were a side hastily thrown together and with little cohesion or knowledge of one another.


As it happened: Crusaders overcome Sunwolves

It would be remiss, however, not to acknowledge the quality of the Sunwolves and their desire to stay in the game.

They ended up taking a reasonable beating in the end but the thing to be conscious of is that they are getting better.

They appear to be a side that is learning week to week and there really is no doubt they play with incredible heart and commitment.

For 60 minutes they were genuinely a chance of winning until Ryan Crotty, easily the best player on the park, decided he'd had enough of seeing the Crusaders attack laterally and picked up a loose ball, straightened and crashed through the middle to put the Crusaders far enough ahead there was no chance they were going to be caught.

It was a long time coming, which had plenty to do with the Crusaders lineout being strangely out of sorts.

And that's being kind – it was actually a bit of a disaster and without being able to secure their ball, they couldn't get their attack game going. They couldn't build the phases and control the game when they were turning it over so regularly.

The Sunwolves defended pretty well, too which was also a reason why the Crusaders took so long to find any kind of rhythm.

They lack size but they don't lack presence and their speed at getting their hands on the ball at the breakdown was a feature of their performance.

And the final mitigating factor behind the Crusaders' stuttering work was the weather. At one point there was hail literally bouncing off players' heads and it looked next to impossible to keep a hold of the ball.

It made for a fast, loose, irregular sort of affair that was probably a million miles away from the one-sided romp most people were expecting.

And probably no one was more disappointed by that than Dagg, who would have been hoping to get his hands on the ball and test himself out.

But if he did touch the ball, it couldn't have been for long because it certainly didn't register. When he shuffled off after 50 minutes it was a bit of a shock – a reminder that he had in fact been playing all along.

Franks will feel he got much more out of the evening. The Sunwolves fronted in the physical parts and their scrum did at least try to deal with the power that was coming through.

The All Blacks selectors will have been reasonably pleased to see him come through unscathed and get some football under his belt, too as the number of props that have fallen over in the last few months has been quite alarming.

It wasn't a great performance by the Crusaders but they got the five points they wanted and bagged them with a few senior players in the stands taking a welcome rest.

Crusaders 33 (R. Crotty (2), M. Todd, M. Mataele, J. Stratton tries; M. Delany 3 cons; M. Hunt con)
Sunwolves 11 (M. Little try; H. Parker 2 pens)