Odds stacked against the Sharks
Eighteen years later the Sharks are back at that same venue for today’s Super Rugby quarter-final and they will be only too aware of the obstacles to be overcome that are over and above the Brumbies themselves.
That evening in 2001 the temperature was zero degrees at kick-off, with an icy wind blasting in from the outback over the exposed ground.
I recall flyhalf Butch James complaining that he couldn’t feel his fingers. But the Sharks nevertheless started well and, to the displeasure of one of the most partisan crowds on the planet, led 6-3 at half time.
They ultimately lost 36-6 in a one-sided second half in which George Gregan’s team cashed in on the considerable home ground advantage afforded by the weather and their parochial fans.
At the post-match presentation, Sharks captain Mark Andrews was booed off the stage.
Not for any particular reason ... just because that is how the supporters are in the back of beyond.
The predicted temperature for today’s match (8pm local time) is an (almost) freezing 2 deg C and Louis Schreuder’s Sharks can expect as hot a reception from the home crowd as Andrews’ lot did.
The distinct home ground advantage is reflected in the fact that this fairly ordinary Brumbies team went unbeaten in Canberra in 2019 after a shock home loss to the Rebels in round one yet is more than vulnerable away from home (losing six games).
The way it has generally worked out between the Sharks and the Brumbies over the years is that each side wins at home.
In 22 fixtures between the sides since 1996, the Brumbies have won 12 and the Sharks 10 (all but one at Jonsson Kings Park), with the average score between the sides being 26-23 to the Australians.
Current form is with the Brumbies - they have won three of the last four matches between the sides – but that span of matches has been decided by seven points or fewer, again emphasising how closely matched these teams are.
A statistic that will not encourage the Sharks is their very poor record in away Super Rugby play-off matches - they have lost their last five away from Durban and the last time they won a finals match outside South Africa was in Australia in 2012 (30-17 vs Reds).
Interestingly, the two teams have exactly the same record on defence in 2009, both having been successful with 87.7 % of their tackles (joint fifth) but where the Brumbies have a clear advantage is in their attacking edge.
They have scored 65 tries (second only to the Crusaders’ 78) while the Sharks are third last in the standings with 40 tries.
Kick-off: 12.05pm (SA time)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Sharks - 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Jacques Vermeulen, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Mzamo Majola.
Subs: 16 Cullen Collopy, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Gideon Koegelenberg, 20 Luke Stringer, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Rhyno Smith.
Brumbies - 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Toni Pulu, 10 Christian Leali’ifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Pete Samu, 7 Tom Cusack, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Connal McInerney, 17 James Slipper, 18 Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Darcy Swain, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Jahrome Brown, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Tom Wright.
Independent on Saturday