DURBAN – The last (and only) time the Sharks beat the Crusaders in Christchurch, Bismarck du Plessis was the unlikely captain and Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis were celebrating their 100th Super Rugby caps.
It was May 17, 2014 and what made the win all the more remarkable was the fact the Sharks were depleted for much of the game.
Flank Jean Deysel was red carded in the 17th minute for stomping on a player and then in the 64th minute No 8 Willem Alberts was yellow carded for taking a player out off the ball, meaning the Sharks were down to 13 men at a crucial time of the match.
The Beast is the only surviving Shark who featured in the 30-25 victory and he will tell his teammates in Christchurch this week that what won the day was fanatical defence. The Sharks players tackled themselves to a standstill in a pulsating match that saw the lead change hands seven times.
The early red card brought the team closer together, and when they were two men down they defended as if their lives depended on it, and when Alberts came back on from his ten minutes in the bin the Sharks’ heroic efforts were rewarded with a 75th minute winning try by replacement hooker Kyle Cooper.
Promisingly, the Sharks’ defence was very good against the Waratahs last week, the best it has been this season, so they have platform from which to work. They just have to crack up the intensity on defence even more.
After 11 of 18 rounds of the competition, the Crusaders are seven points clear of the second-placed Hurricanes in what is the toughest division of Super Rugby by some margin.
By comparison, the Sharks top the SA Conference with 26 points garnered from winning five of their ten games. It is a Conference in which the five teams are much of a muchness, with just four log points separating the top and bottom teams.The Conference changes just about every week. If the Sharks lose in Christchurch they could drop to fourth.
The Bulls and Jaguares not only have a game in hand over the Sharks and Lions but will be favoured to win their home games this weekend against the Waratahs and Stormers respectively. The Lions will stay where they are at the foot of the ladder because they have a bye.
As invincible as the Crusaders appear to be in their home town, the Sharks will be convincing themselves that they can win. They will take strength from the fact that the Crusaders’ only loss this year was against the Waratahs in Sydney, where the Sharks have just won, although that Crusaders’ loss came a week after the terror attacks in Christchurch, and the players’ minds were hardly on the game.
So probably a more tangible source of inspiration is that famous 2014 win.
* Jed Holloway, the Waratahs lock who was red carded for striking Sharks prop Thomas du Toit, has been suspended for three weeks by a Sanzaar Foul Play Review Committee.@MikeGreenaway67