Maybe the Crusaders aren't so invincible after all. Not when they rest three All Blacks, anyway.

In a messy, ugly match in Christchurch, the Sharks reduced the defending champions to mere mortals.

Tonight was supposed to be about the Crusaders equalling their record run of 26 home victories, set from 2004-2007, by celebrating Kieran Read's 150th Super Rugby match in style.

The Sharks had other ideas, holding a slender lead for much of the match and coming oh so close to pulling off a major upset.

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Champion teams find a way to dig themselves out of holes and, in the end, that's what the Crusaders did.

With time up, Scott Robertson's men managed to snatch a draw with a try and conversion from Mitchell Hunt following a string of penalties from referee Brendon Pickerill.

Moments earlier, Sharks wing Sbusiso Nkosi pulled off a try-saving tackle, forcing Braydon Ennor into touch three minutes from time.

This effort epitomised the spirited Sharks' defence but it wasn't quite enough.

If, for whatever reason, you missed this match, don't rush to watch the replay. It will not go down as one of the more memorable in recent times.

Perhaps the best sign of how the Sharks took the game to the hosts was the fact the Crusaders' game breakers, so lethal in recent weeks, were kept quiet.

Will Jordan, returning to fullback, limped off after half an hour while Sevu Reece and one test All Blacks wing George Bridge had limited chances to strike – a credit to the Sharks.

The Crusaders claimed the only three tries of the contest – Codie Taylor touching down at the foot of the post in the first half and Jack Goodhue, heavily restricted in one spot at second five-eighth, crashing over in the second spell after a Read short ball, before Hunt scored at the death.

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The Sharks weren't impressive on attack but they disrupted well throughout. They won the breakdown battle and their defensive line speed caused problems, forcing regular errors and nabbing intercepts. They were also content to accumulate points, with first-five Curwin Bosch nailing seven penalties.

It was clear from the outset the Crusaders were missing Richie Mo'unga, Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty. They lacked patience, their decision-making was off and they battled to get their game going.

Their scrum also looked perplexed at some of Pickerill's rulings.

Conditions made handling challenging but the Crusaders were inaccurate in much of their work, struggling to get out of their half and discipline proving an issue.

Despite the best efforts of Jordan Taufua, immense with ball in hand, and Matt Todd on defence, the Crusaders could not lay the desired platform which made life difficult for Hunt.

Other than one cross-field kick to pick out Reece, Hunt did not exert the same influence and control that Mo'unga, on All Blacks rest week, regularly brings, though he did score and convert final try to level.

For all their territorial dominance, the Sharks will rue not converting many of their chances. Their lineout was a major issue – they butchered two mauls close to the Crusaders line, and did not have the accuracy to build sustained pressure at other times.

With a trip to Pretoria and Cape Town next up the Crusaders will probably be content to bank the points and move on. A draw is better than a second loss this season.

With a full contingent back on deck, it would be a surprise if they are this poor next week.

Crusaders 21 (Codie Taylor, Jack Goodhue, Mitchell Hunt tries; Hunt 3 cons)
Sharks 21 (Curwin Bosch 7 pens)
HT: 7-9