Can they repeat feat?

2014-07-22 00:00

THE Sharks touched down in Christ­church last night as they completed the 36-hour journey from Durban via Johannesburg and Sydney to New Zealand’s South Island for their big Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusaders in the city this week.

The Durban side edged out another team from that country, the Highlanders, this past Saturday and by Sunday lunchtime were already headed for King Shaka International Airport for the long-journey across the Indian Ocean to the antipodes.

Director of rugby Jake White was determined to arrive in the host city as early as possible for the showdown against the seven-time champions as he sought to cover all basis in the Sharks’ bid to overcome history and reach the final.

Never before has a South African team won a semi-final in New Zealand and only has one of our teams won a last-four game overseas. That was back in the inaugural Super Rugby event in 1996 when a Gary Teichmann-lead Sharks overcame the Reds 43-25 in Brisbane.

“I think it would be disrespectful not to get to New Zealand straight away,” White said after the 31-27 win on Saturday. “I’m old school and I think, to be fair, if you’re going to play in that country, you’re going to have to go and stay in that country.”

The Sharks boss and his squad have already showed once this season that history can be breached — as illustrated when they famously beat the Crusaders on one of their most successful overseas tours ever earlier in the year.

That was in round 12 when they won 30-25 at the AMI Stadium — one of three wins out of four from their Australasian trip.

“We’ve got some great memories, a couple of months ago we were there and we had a great time,” White recalled.

“We can also take a lot from the fact of having done it before. We know it’s possible, it’s knockout rugby and it’s meaningless what happened in the past.

“It’s a whole new game, it’s meaningless what happened before, it’s meaningless how many All Blacks they’ve got, it’s meaningless what history books say, so I believe we can beat anyone in the competition.”

Captain Bismarck du Plessis, named man of the match for his showing on Saturday, which included a vital second-half try, was equally optimistic.

“We do take confidence from beating the Crusaders in the pool match in Christchurch, I really hope all of South Africa is behind us and they cheer us on,” he said.

However, Jamie Joseph, coach of the Otago-based Highlanders, was not so confident.

“The Sharks are playing the Crusaders, and they’re the ones that have to fly all the way there now and do what we just did,” he said. “And they’re pretty good as well. They’re also much better on the set piece.

“Look, what I can tell say is that the Sharks will be up against a complete team, a team who play complete rugby and don’t have many weaknesses.

“It’s going to be a great game, but it’s going to be difficult.”

The Sharks squad who arrived in New Zealand’s third largest city were without two of its star players in prop Tendai Mtawarira and lock Anton Bresler.

Both were left behind because of injury, with the former still not entirely over a bulging disc in his neck and the latter out with a rib injury picked up on Saturday.

No replacement lock has been taken on the trip. Stephan Lewies — a late withdrawal against the Highlanders due to a knee complaint — was expected to be fit to partner Etienne Oosthuizen, with Willem Alberts and Jean Deysel providing cover.

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