Coach Scott Robertson admitted Moana Pasifika's resilience surprised him in the Crusaders' 33-12 Super Rugby Pacific win in Dunedin on Friday.
The physical approach Moana Pasifika applied during the game took its toll on his side, he said.
"When we didn't execute early, the defence defended with courage and ferocity," he said.
"We couldn't get over that line, and execution was poor. We kept them in it.
"We made them make the tackles we wanted to, and then, bang, they scored a try and lifted again.
"With the amount of changes [to the selection] we made, we were clunky. It's as simple as that. We were clunky. I'm stoked for them [Moana Pasifika], really proud. I'm also relieved to get a bonus point," Robertson said.
He thought the newcomers would fold like most other of their opponents in the final quarter, especially after the number of tackles they had made before that.
What was most impressive was that having spent so much of their time in the Covid bubble in Queenstown in their rooms isolating and without the training time other sides enjoyed, they had been competitive so soon.
"It was an immense effort," he said.
Moana Pasifika coach Aaron Mauger said, "The work ethic was fuelled by what this team stands for. It's about serving our people, serving our ancestry, those who have gone before us, and whose we want to inspire and follow us.
"You could see that in the repetition – making tackles, big shots, getting up, play after play against the juggernaut which is the Crusaders.
"We managed to withstand so much of that pressure. That fuel of passion, of family, is something that was evident, and something we're proud of," he said.
Having their first game while the Crusaders were playing their third highlighted the need for Moana Pasifika to sharpen their execution.
Mauger said the performance was 'not too bad,' for a first game.
"I know we'll be sharper next week, and we'll keep getting better. In the second half we had some opportunities to put the Crusaders under pressure, and they started to feel it as well," he said.
The display of five-eighths Lincoln McClutchie, whose break set up their first try, and Danny Toala, was outstanding, Mauger said.
They were 'triple threat' players who could run, kick or pass, and halfback Ere Enari served them well, he said.
"We had to defence for long part, but I think Danny and Lincoln showed what they are capable of," he said