DURBAN – If the Board of the Sharks rugby union needed a conclusive moment to sack the coach of their team, it came in the 56th minute of the drawn Super Rugby match against the defending champion Crusaders in Christchurch yesterday.
That was when Robert du Preez Senior made a perplexing decision to bring on Robert du Preez Junior at flyhalf for Curwin Bosch.
The latter had enjoyed a mostly immaculate game in controlling his team against the record champions, and he had every right to look as bemused as he did when he was demoted to fullback.
This week the gratuitous change at flyhalf for the Sharks came six minutes earlier than it did the previous week against the Waratahs, when the Sharks won the match in spite of an error-strewn cameo from the substitute flyhalf.
It might well be that coach Du Preez’s decision to remove a flyhalf that had ensured the Sharks dominated territory and possession was an extension of his “twos-up” to his critics earlier in the week.
Du Preez had said that his team were on track, and would not be budged by “cockroach comments from supporters on social media and ill-informed journalism”.
Well, on came Rob Junior and there were two errors in five minutes, and the Sharks did not see the Crusaders’ danger area for the last quarter of the game.
History will record that the home team protected their record of 25 matches unbeaten in Christchurch, but it won’t reveal how heroic the Sharks players were in coming so close to winning the franchise’s 22nd match on New Zealand soil (the most by any Super Rugby franchise).
The home side spent the last quarter camped in the Sharks’ 22, and there was an inevitability about them scoring a post-hooter try to salvage the draw.
Crusaders supporters will point out their side scored three tries to the Sharks seven penalties for the 21-21 draw.
But the reality is that you don’t have to score tries to win matches, and for three-quarters of the match, the Sharks played a territorial game that should have given them the victory.
To give context to this game, the Crusaders were without several All Blacks in Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Richie Mo’unga and Ryan Crotty.
That would have contributed to the Sharks enjoying a physical superiority in the first half that should have given them more than a 9-7 lead at the break.
The Sharks continued to dominate the forward exchanges after halftime, and this translated into two more successful penalties from the boot of Bosch for a 15-7 lead.
Crusaders v Sharks | Super Rugby 2019 Rd 12 Highlights— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) May 3, 2019
The home winning streak’s at an end, but perseverance saw @crusadersrugby steal a draw against @The SharksZA in Christchurch, 21-21.#SuperRugby #CRUvSHA pic.twitter.com/mC0rxsHtVO
The Sharks’ defence was exceptional in this period, but centre Jack Goodhue powered over to reduce the deficit to a single point.
Bosch nailed another penalty goal, but then missed another attempt, and that meant four points separated the teams with less than eight minutes remaining.
Thomas du Toit won a crucial turnover penalty for Bosch to extend the lead to seven points, but as the game ground towards a climax, Mitch Hunt scored and then kicked the conversion.
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