Christchurch – At the end of Saturday’s post-match press conference, Sharks director of rugby Jake White was reminded of a rather unnerving statistic that the Crusaders have remained unbeaten in their last 50 matches against South African and Australian opposition in Christchurch.
White jokingly quipped that “the good thing is that such a record will be broken at some point”, but the enormity of this Saturday’s task against the in-form Crusaders will not be lost on the Sharks.
The Durban side have never won in Christchurch, while the last South African side to do so were the Super Rugby amalgamation outfit, the Cats, way back in 2001.
And, as if to illustrate a sense of foreboding, it was a misty and chilly Christchurch that greeted the Sharks in New Zealand last night, with the team touching down to hear that the Crusaders had clinched a fifth successive win in the competition.
The Crusaders’ resounding 57-29 victory over the Reds yesterday has now seen the seven-time champs draw within five points of the Sharks, while the Kiwi side also have a game in hand.
Despite the Sharks’ loss to the Brumbies on Saturday, they still top the overall log, but their lead has been cut to one point, with the victorious Chiefs following hot on their heels. After this weekend’s battle, the Sharks will complete their overseas tour with a clash against the dangerous Blues, and so, although it’s going to be a challenging fortnight of fixtures, White said there was still reason to be positive.
“We knew this period of the season was going to be really tough, the Brumbies are the top Australian side and got to the final last year.
“The Crusaders are always contenders, and the Sharks haven’t won in Christchurch, while the Blues hit form a couple of weeks ago.
“The nice thing is that we’re still in control of our own destiny, and there’s a lot more rugby to be played.
“I understand it’s not always about how you play right now, but sometimes how you go in your last three games.”
White emphasised that Saturday’s disappointing defeat to the Brumbies should also be kept in perspective.
“The thing is, the Chiefs came to Canberra a few weeks ago and had a four-try bonus-point scored against them, while the Waratahs suffered the same fate.
“This is a top Brumbies team, and I know how good they can be.
“But we had our chances as well.
“We missed a few kicks early on, and if we’d been able to convert that momentum and force the Brumbies to chase the game, then things perhaps could have been different.
“But in the end we were the ones who had to play catch-up rugby, which is especially difficult to do away from home.”
Afterwards, Brumbies captain Ben Mowen suggested that the intensity of the clash was almost comparable to a Test match.
“Both teams understood how important this game was, and there was a lot on the line. The Sharks started strongly, and we knew how tough it was going to be against a side that have a very good set-piece, good defence, and a winning mind-set.
“The Sharks now have two games in New Zealand, and it won’t get any easier from here – so you could also see just how desperate they were for a winning result.”
On the plus side, although a number of players were nursing aching bodies after Saturday’s brutal battle, the Sharks were able to check in at the picturesque Peppers Clearwater Resort without any serious injuries to report. - The Star