‘Beaten by a better team’

2011-06-27 00:00

COACH John Plumtree refused to blame travel fatigue as the Sharks’ Super Rugby dream turned into a second-half nightmare on a cold and slippery Saturday night at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.

The Sharks threatened in the first half, but then conceded 20 points in the final 30 minutes to go down 36-8 to the Crusaders.

Todd Blackadder’s Crusaders now fly to South Africa — along with the vanquished Sharks — for their semi-final outing against the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday evening. The Reds host the Auckland Blues in the earlier semi-final in Brisbane.

The Sharks, willing if untidy, made a strong start, led 5-3 for much of the first half and trailed 5-13 at the break.

But the cracks had already started to appear and the Sharks, returning to their old habits, proceeded to play far too much rugby behind the advantage line and in their own half. This kept goalkicker Dan Carter in range and he booted six penalties to add to the Crusaders’ three tries.

The Sharks’ muscular approach, headed by backrowers Willem Alberts and Jean Deysel and hooker Bismarck du Plessis, strong rucking and an improved midfield defence bothered the Crusaders in the initial stages, although much of the good work was spoilt by a string of silly handling errors.

But 10 minutes before the break the Sharks lost their structure and the Crusaders started to control territory and possession. Not only did the Sharks’ all-Bok front row struggle in the scrums, but a recurrence of a shoulder injury took Alberts from the field in the critical minutes before half-time.

“We wanted to do a lot better than that,” said Plumtree, “but we were beaten by a better side on the night. They played the conditions and we weren’t accurate enough when we had the ball, and we missed tackles at crucial times.”

Plumtree admitted it had been a difficult week.

“But we’re not making excuses. We were beaten by a better side tonight and we just have to accept that. It’s been a tough campaign for us, but I’m proud that we made the top six. We had to work really hard to get there, but ultimately we weren’t good enough to beat the Crusaders.”

Plumtree said the slippery conditions had made it difficult for both teams and this had led to the many handling errors.

“It was cold, six or seven degrees, and the field was still wet. We were still in the contest just after half-time [13-8], but we were really hurt when we gave away a soft try [Kieran Read intercepted a speculative pass from Lambie].”

Compounding the Sharks’ problems was the lop-sided penalty count, he said. “It was then a case of playing catch-up rugby. We had to try and play from our own half and ultimately that was our undoing.

“Credit to the Crusaders. They are a great side, full of talent and current All Blacks. They are tough and the Stormers will have to play well to beat them at Newlands.”

Read, the Crusaders’ captain, said they had been stung by the Sharks’ early intensity.

“We thought they would come at us and they did. They are a quality outfit and we knew we had to stick in there and the opportunities would come later. We put a lot of heart into that performance.”

Sharks captain Stefan Terblanche praised the homeless Crusaders, who have travelled for all their games this season.

“It’s amazing the way they have got together in adversity. They are a champion team.”

And just a final thought on New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence. The Sharks, after a shabby display frequently punctuated by error, were in no position to complain about him, but there were occasions when the New Zealand commentators and even the players were laughing at his calls.

Sharks loosehead Beast Mtawarira, perhaps because he was looking mean, was once penalised for “dangerous scrummaging” before the scrum had even engaged, while Crusaders centre Sonny Bill Williams was grinning broadly after winning a penalty, and three points, with a Hollywood dive.

If Lawrence is considered the best in the competition — and he is because he has already been appointed to handle the Super Rugby final — then refereeing boss Lyndon Bray, another New Zealander, and his assessors should be red-carded.

Scorers:

Crusaders 36 (Sonny Bill Williams, Kieran Read, Ben Franks tries; Dan Carter 2 conversions, 5 penalties; Matt Berquist conversion), Sharks 8 (Willem Alberts try; Patrick Lambie penalty). HT: 13-5.

Saturday’s semi-finals (SA times):

Reds vs Blues, Brisbane, 11.40 am (Referee: Jonathan Kaplan).

Stormers vs Crusaders, Cape Town, 5.05 pm (Referee: Craig Joubert).

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