Sonny Bill Williams and his Crusaders side overcame a error-riddled start on an emotional night to smash the NSW Waratahs 33-18 in their Super Rugby clash in Nelson on Friday.

It was the first defeat in three games for NSW, whose woes were compounded by injuries to centre Rob Horne and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau.

Playing their first match since the earthquake wrecked their home city, the Crusaders trailed 13-6 early on, but hit back to lead 26-13 at the break.

The match, which was switched from Christchurch, was also played in memory of the 29 miners who died in the Pike River disaster last year.

Both teams scored three tries, with centre Tom Carter and halfback Luke Burgess crossing early for the visitors.

Three missed kicks from five-eighth Daniel Halangahu kept the Crusaders within reach.

Former Bulldogs league star Williams, who was playing his first Super game despite already representing the All Blacks, threw a couple of wild passes in the first eight minutes.

However, the strapping back and his centre partner Robbie Fruean were prominent in a storming comeback, which produced 27 unanswered points.

Williams crossed for a try less than two minutes into the second half and set up Fruean for one of his two five-pointers.

Williams also displayed some sublime running and passing skills before being replaced after 66 minutes.

The Waratahs were clearly outpointed in the scrums and at the breakdown, though they held their own in the lineouts.

They hadn’t conceded any tries in their first two games, but missed too many tackles as the Crusaders poured the pressure on.

NSW couldn’t have started better, with Carter crossing after a beautiful Polota-Nau pass.

Two penalties to five-eighth Dan Carter gave the Crusaders a 6-5 lead.

Burgess, who was everywhere early on, then combined with No.8 Ben Mowen to score the second try.

Fullback and replacement goalkicker Kurtley Beale added a penalty to stretch the NSW lead to seven points.

The game tilted towards the Crusaders after they scored 20 points in the final 10 minutes of the first half.

Carter kicked a penalty and then converted two tries in four minutes from Fruean.

The first came after he raced almost 50 metres after intercepting a Burgess pass, while Carter added another penalty just before the break.

The prolific goalkicking All Black converted Williams’ try as the Crusaders started the second half the way they finished the first.

Reserve back Afa Pakalani scored a consolation try for NSW with eight minutes remaining.