Sharks bag historic win

2014-05-17 23:20

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Against all odds, the Sharks pulled off one of the most remarkable victories in the 18-year history of Super Rugby by lowering the colours of the Crusaders in Christchurch, New Zealand, today.

Rank underdogs before the start, the Sharks’ hopes of success took a massive blow in the 15th minute when flank Jean Deysel was red-carded for foolishly stamping on the face of Jordan Taufua as he tried to break free of a tackle.

It seemed the loss of such an influential forward?–?and having to play for another 65 minutes with just 14 men?–?would condemn the men from KwaZulu-Natal to inevitable defeat against a team and at a stadium that has been the nemesis of South African sides.

Faced by such an unequal task most teams would have thrown in the towel, but not Bismarck du Plessis and his courageous men in black.

Determined to make it a special occasion for joint centurions, Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis, the Sharks scrapped and tackled with superhuman resolve and when the chances presented themselves, made the Crusaders pay for allowing complacency to creep into their play.

To make matters worse, the Sharks were often puzzled by the rulings of Australian referee Rohan Hoffman and the mountain they had to climb became steeper when they also lost Willem Alberts for 10 minutes after the big crash-tackler was yellow-carded in the 63rd minute for tackling the man without the ball.

The Sharks’ valiant resilience and refusal to buckle rattled the Crusaders into shunning their usual attacking game to try to peg away with penalties. In the end, the tourists scored three tries to one?–?including the game clincher by reserve hooker Kyle Cooper in the 76th minute?–?to cement their position at the top of the log and take a stride towards setting up a home semifinal in Durban.

After the dross of Canberra in the previous week and the subsequent criticism of his methods, the match was a triumph for coach Jake White and a massive boost for South African rugby ahead of the June tests.

White’s confidence in the all-round capabilities of his group was shown in his willingness to send on his subs while a player like scrumhalf Cobus Reinach staked a strong claim to being included in the Springbok squad.

Unheralded players such as Lubabalo Mtembu, Etienne Oosthuizen and Stephan Lewies added plucky resolve and, with two victories in three matches so far on their tour, the Sharks confirmed their status as the country’s best hope for success in a competition last won by the Bulls in 2010.

The historic record puts in perspective the Sharks’ achievement. Going into the match the Sharks had beaten the Crusaders just three times in 17 matches; they had never won in Christchurch and the last time a South African side beat the Saders in their backyard were the Cats who won 32-31 in 2001 when they were coached by Laurie Mains and captained by Rassie Erasmus.

The Sharks, who will have a quick turnaround before playing their final game on tour against the Blues in Auckland on Friday, ended the weekend five points clear on the combined log and with a seemingly unassailable 12-point lead over the Bulls in the South African conference.

.?In Bloemfontein last night, the Cheetahs did the Sharks a big favour in their quest to force a home playoff match by knocking off Australia’s leading side, the Brumbies, 27-21.

It was the Cheetahs’ first win over overseas opposition this year and it completed a joyful weekend for South African rugby following the Stormers’ earlier 24-8 win over the Force at Newlands in Cape Town.

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