The Crusaders survived a sprightly Sunwolves, defeating the Japanese side 33-11 at a wet and windy AMI Stadium, Christchurch.
The Canterbury team scored five tries through Ryan Crotty, Matt Todd, Manasa Mataele and Jack Stratton on debut for a dogged bonus-point win.
Ryan Crotty bagged a brace in a tight match played in hail, lightning and thunderstorms.
The Crusaders raced into a 10-minute 14-nil lead with tries from Crotty and captain Todd.
Michael Little scored in the corner after two series of plays that went 13 and 9 phases to reduce the deficit.
Hayden Parker kicked two second-half penalties to make it a three-point ball-game.
It was as good as it would get for the visitors because the Crusaders turned on the class
Crotty’s scored his second try before the hour and Manasa Mataele combined with Tim Bateman for his fifth try of the season to seal the victory.
Stratton’s last-play score capped a superb second-half display by the eight-time champions, who go top of the New Zealand Conference.
Terrible start for the Japanese side.
The Sunwolves were heavy underdogs against their illustrious opponents, and they started as though they had been blinded by the Crusaders’ trophy cabinet on the way out of the tunnel.
They conceded inside a minute to get off to the worst possible start, especially in a game with blustery wind and heavy rain and hail.
Delany ghosted through a big gap and charged into the Sunwolves’ 22.
He drew the last defenders and threw a long pass to the supporting Crotty, who opened the scoring.
Ben Franks was playing his first competitive match in 10 months and immediately won a scrum penalty.
A botched lineout was negated by another penalty which was duly kicked to the corner.
This time there would be no mistake. The Crusaders secured the ball at the front of the lineout, set up the maul and powered towards the try-line.
Todd was the player who got up with the ball, making it 12-0 inside nine minutes.
The Sunwolves did not just collapse, instead, they started stringing some phases together and played inside their opponent’s half.
They went 13 phases before winning another penalty.
James Moore broke through the line and the Japanese side was pummeling the Crusaders’ line.
Little scored after another series of sustained possession.
This time the Sunwolves went nine phases.
The ball retention was superb and the presence of mind to get the ball wide quickly sent Little away in the corner. We had a game.
The hail had started to fall and lightning was seen in the distance, drowned out by the rolling thunder – winter sports, hey.
Crusaders pull away in the second-half.
The poor weather did not seem to affect the players, who handled the ball expertly in the conditions.
The visitors started after the break at breakneck pace.
Kazuki Himeno won the turnover inside his 22.
The counter-attack and kick were rewarded when Delany knocked on.
Skipper Pieter Labuschagne kicked forward and George Bridge was tackled over his goal-line.
But the Sunwolves could not make anything of their great field possession because Yoshitaka Tokunaga lost the ball forward.
Jamie Joseph’s side had to take their chances in this game of attrition, and they did not.
Parker reduced the deficit to six with a 51st-minute penalty.
The Crusaders started to find some rhythm and were soon rewarded with another score.
Bateman and Quinten Strange combined with two breaks and an offload to set up Crotty’s five-pointer.
It was pure joy to watch the big men in midfield opening up another backline.
Bateman was involved five minutes’ later for Mataele’s try.
Mataele collected Bateman’s offload and streaked away through a big hole. There was nobody at home for the Sunwolves. Simple as you like.
The Crusaders went multiple phases, one lasting 23 phases, but the Sunwolves held them back.
Tired minds and tired legs would eventually prevail.
Luke Romano, Crotty and George Bridge all combined to send Stratton away for his debut Super Rugby try, just before the hooter.
Crusaders versus Sunwolves video highlights.
Final score: Crusaders 33 (14) Sunwolves 11 (5)
Tries – Crotty (2), Todd, Mataele, Stratton
Con – Delany (3), Hunt
Tries – Little
Pen – Parker (2)
Tries – Little
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 1: Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant Ref 2: Cam Stone
TMO: Glenn Newman
15 George Bridge, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Manasa Mataele, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Chris King, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Jack Stratton, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Seta Tamanivalu.
15 William Tupou, 14 Hosea Saumaki, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Michael Little, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne (captain), 6 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 James Moore, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Craig Millar.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Shintato Ishihara, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Edward Quirk, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Ryoto Nakamura, 23 Semisi Masirewa.