Replacement Kyle Cooper scored a 75th-minute try to lift a Sharks team reduced to 14 men for 63 minutes and to 13 during the second half to a 30-25 win over the Crusaders in Super Rugby on Saturday.
Cooper's try forced the fifth and final lead change of the second half, clinching the Shark's ninth win in 12 matches and giving them their first-ever win over the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Flanker Jean Deysel was shown a red card in the 17th minute for a vicious, off-the-ball stomp on the face of Crusaders backrower Jordan Taufua. His loss seemed an insurmountable handicap to the Sharks but, instead, seemed to galvanize the Durban-based side who extended their stay in first place and snapped the Crusaders' winning streak at five games.
The Sharks were left even further under-manned in the 64th minute when No. 8 Willem Alberts was sin-binned for taking out a player off the ball. Though reduced to 13 men through a crucial passage of the match, the Sharks still managed to fight back to reclaim the lead.
Flyhalf Colin Slade scored all of the Crusaders' points, scoring a try, adding the conversion and landing six penalties to surpass 20 points for the second straight week. His sixth penalty gave the Crusaders their last lead, at 25-23, after 72 minutes.
But the Sharks then showed forced their way back into Crusaders' territory to regain the lead when Cooper barged over through weak open-side defense.
The Sharks then held out the frenetic attempts of the Crusaders to snatch the game in its final minutes. The close-knit defense which had denied the Crusaders for most of the match held strong under that late pressure and the Sharks achieved an historic win, marking the 100th Super Rugby matches of props Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis.
"I must say I'm really, really proud of the guys and especially for Jannie and Beast playing their 100th games," Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis said. "It's very emotional for us. We've been here and come close but we've never won here so it's a big thing for us.
"A red card so early in the game really brings the team that much closer to each other and everybody talked so much it made my job that much easier."
The Crusaders' playoffs hopes took a slight hit from Saturday's defeat. Their winning run had carried them to fifth place on the championships ladder but, having now stalled, leaves them vulnerable to the a clutch of teams pressing for top-six places.
They were guilty of playing unambitious rugby when they found themselves with a one-man advantage. In the 10 minutes after Deysel's dismissal they enjoyed an 81 percent territorial advantage but tried too often to advance their game by kicking and allowed the Sharks a significant advantage of possession.
The same deficiency hampered the Crusaders in the second half:they were unable to keep the ball in hand for long enough periods to accentuate their numerical advantage.
"It's disappointing to let that one get away," Crusaders captain Ryan Crotty said. "They did well to slow the game down, they played smart and we didn't execute as well as we should have."
Center Sibusiso Sithole scored an early try for the Sharks but Slade replied with the Crusaders' only try in the 12th minute when Sharks scrumhalf Cobus Reinach failed to neutralize a positional kick. The Crusaders took a 13-10 lead to halftime before Reinach atoned for his error with the first try of the second half.
An exchange of penalties kept the lead changing hands until Cooper's decisive late try.
Sharks 30 (Sibusiso Sithole, Cobus Reinach, Kyle Cooper tries; Frans Steyn 2 conversions, 2 penalties; Tim Swiel conversion, penalty), Crusaders 25 (Colin Slade try; Colin Slade conversion, 6 penalties). HT: 13-10. - Sapa-AP