Sharks show character in loss to superb Crusaders

2011-03-28 00:00

THE sublime midfield skills of Sonny Bill Williams and Dan Carter, on the back of a powerful scrummaging display, carried the Crusaders to a 44-28 Super Rugby win over the willing and brave Sharks at Twickenham in London yesterday.

This historic game, the first to be played outside the Sanzar regions, proved a glorious celebration of Super Rugby with the Crusaders dominant in the first half and the Sharks mounting a spirited second-half revival before losing by 16 points.

The Sharks’ midfield was cut to pieces by Williams and Carter in the first half and they trailed 10-34 with half-time approaching. But they showed remarkable character and resilience to score three of the final four tries in the match to take a bonus point and, briefly at 28-37, threaten the most unlikely of wins in the final quarter.

But this was the Crusaders’ day and they were not to be denied with wing Sean Maitland’s second try 12 minutes from the final whistle (44-28) ending the match as a contest.

Williams, an expert in carrying the ball and off-loading in the tackle, was a giant in the centre and the Sharks, forewarned but not forearmed, had no answer to his superb midfield creativity.

The 108 kg centre spoilt an otherwise memorable day with a cynical shoulder charge on Sharks number eight Ryan Kankowski and he could find himself cited and in the dog box.

The Crusaders, who out-scored the Sharks five tries to four, also held an unexpected advantage in the scrums in the first half and it was only once Beast Mtawarira was introduced for John Smit with half-an-hour remaining that the Sharks scrum settled.

The shift of Meyer Bosman from inside-centre to flyhalf in the final quarter also brought a direct edge to the Sharks’ backplay and they certainly kept testing the Crusaders’ defence until the final whistle.

But, of course, the damage was done in a flurry of scoring with four Crusaders’ tries inside 20 minutes in the first half leaving the Sharks trailing by 24 points and they spent the rest of the sunny afternoon chasing the game.

The Crusaders may have paid a heavy price for the win with Carter and captain Keiran Read leaving the field with injuries.

Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis, the heavily involved Willem Alberts, Keegan Daniel and lock Alistair Hargreaves were prominent in defeat but the scrummaging and the backline defence are obviously areas of concern.

“What a game of rugby,” acting Sharks captain Stefan Terblanche said after the game. “It is a pity we left ourselves with so much to do in the second half.”

The Sharks, who now face the high-riding Stormers in Durban on Saturday, will dwell on the spirited second-half revival rather than the sloppy defensive efforts of the first when they were made to look like schoolboys by Williams and Carter.

The 36 000 spectators not only enjoyed the spectacular rugby from both sides but also contributed to the Christchurch earthquake relief effort.

It was a game to savour and for all the right reasons.

 

Scorers

Crusaders - Tries: Sean Maitland (2), Dan Carter, Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford. Conversions: Carter (4), Matt Berquist; Penalties: Carter (3)

Sharks - Tries: Willem Alberts, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Alistair Hargreaves, Odwa Ndungane; Conversions: Potgieter; Penalties: Potgieter (2).

 

Super Rugby standings after the sixth round (including 4 pts for bye):

1. Stormers 25

2. Crusaders 22

3. Reds 22

4. Sharks 20

5. Blues 20

6. Waratahs 18.

7. Bulls 17

8. Highlanders 17.

9. Hurricanes 12

10 Brumbies 12

11. Chiefs 11.

12. Rebels 11.

13. Force 11

14. Lions 8

15. Cheetahs 7.

Saturday’s round-up: page 22

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