Sharks -Super Rugby wrap -what happened ?

Just not good enough on the day is how it appeared in the weekend’s Super Rugby semi-final defeat for the Sharks against the Crusaders in Christchurch, but is there more to it than meets the eye for a a Durban team than has been in more semi-finals and finals than any other South African team in 18 years of Super Rugby, yet has never clinched the crown?

The Bulls have three titles, the Sharks have none, and the Stormers are South Africa’s perennial underachievers.

The Lions and the Cheetahs have only threatened in the play-offs when they were combined as the Cats and for two seasons at the turn of the millennium, former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains welded them into a formidable bunch.

Otherwise it has been mainly been the Sharks that have spearheaded the South African challenge since 1996, but they have never quite had the game to go all the way and win a title.

This year was no different. They led the competition until the three-quarter mark and had the South African Conference wrapped up not long past the half way mark. For so long it seemed that the Sharks would have a home semi-final and then possibly a home final.

But the overall log saw them finish in third place, just one solitary point behind the Crusaders, the team who thus had the advantage of a week off from the quarter-finals and the luxury of not having to travel 12 000 kilometres for a semi.

The Sharks failed spectacularly in the semi-finals, as we painfully saw at the weekend, dismally failing to impose their game plan on a Crusaders team that until the Sharks beat them at home in May, had not lost in 50 games against touring South African teams since Northern Transvaal won there in 1996.

They were not going to lose to the Sharks again in a hurry. Not in the same season.

But for that solitary point separating the Sharks and the Crusaders on the overall log, it could have been so different. Just one point between hosting a semi-final and having to travel overseas for one, having first had to negotiate a quarter-final.

The Crusaders were mid table at the half way mark, the Sharks were the leaders, and they came home from tour with three wins from four games, including that famous win over the Crusaders on their home turf.

And then as the bell sounded for the final lap of the circuit, the Sharks’ legs became wobbly at times while the Crusaders found a second wind and would ultimaty pip the Sharks at the post for that invaluable home semi-final.

Just one point, as we have said. The detractors of the way the Sharks play rugby would say that could have come the way of a try scoring bonus point, something the Sharks miraculously achieved in their first two games in the hectic humidity of February, had they been more adventurous.

They did not manage it again as they settled in to their strategy of kick-first, suffocate and then muscle over the line, and it has to be said that this strategy became firmer policy once flyhalf general Patrick Lambie was injured early in the campaign.

Just one point between hosting the Crusaders and travelling to their sub-zero ground …

We could say that the invaluable points were lost when the Sharks underestimated the Highlanders on April 25 in the eve of their tour overseas, and limply lost to a fired-up Highlanders team that almost repeated the feat in the quarter-finals.

Some would say that it was the loss in Bloemfontein on July 5 when the 15th-placed Cheetahs beat the log leading Sharks, but in truth the Sharks were not that bad that day, even if some players were rotated, and the truth is that was the day a Cheetahs team that had been playing way below their potential chose to play their “cup final”.

So where did it ultimately go wrong for the Sharks in a 2014 campaign that should have ended with home play-off games and a final at Kings Park. It probably came down to the final 20 seconds of the post-tour match against the Stormers, when a jaded Sharks team seemed to have done enough to edge home against a rejuvenated Cape team.

A poorly directed kick from the Sharks scrumhalf on the field at the time, Charl McLeod, gave the Stormers a chance for a counter attack, and from the unlikeliest sources, fullback Jaco Taute, came a fluke drop goal that won his team the game and it quite possibly sunk the Sharks’ hopes of the sweet comforts of home. Such are the margins in Super Rugby … and the difference between Kings Park and Christchurch.

By Mike Greenaway

ALL BLACK SQUAD FOR 2014 Rugby Championship

The All Blacks selectors, Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox, have today named a squad balanced with experience and youth for the 2014 Investec Rugby Championship.

The squad is as follows: (with province, Super Rugby team and Test caps).

Forwards:

Hookers
Dane Coles Wellington / Hurricanes (18)
Keven Mealamu Auckland / Blues (113)

Props
Wyatt Crockett Canterbury / Crusaders (27)
Charlie Faumuina Auckland / Blues (20)
Ben Franks Hawke’s Bay / Hurricanes (31)
Owen Franks Canterbury / Crusaders (57)
Tony Woodcock North Harbour / Blues (110)

Locks
Dominic Bird Canterbury / Crusaders (1)
Brodie Retallick Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (27)
Patrick Tuipulotu Auckland / Blues (2)
Samuel Whitelock Canterbury / Crusaders (54)

Loose forwards
Sam Cane Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (14)
Jerome Kaino Auckland / Blues (51)
Steven Luatua Auckland / Blues (11)
Richie McCaw (c) Canterbury / Crusaders (127)
Liam Messam Waikato / Chiefs (32)
Kieran Read Canterbury / Crusaders (62)

Backs:

Halfbacks
Tawera Kerr-Barlow Waikato / Chiefs (14)
TJ Perenara Wellington/ Hurricanes (3)
Aaron Smith Manawatu / Highlanders (29)

First five-eighths
Beauden Barrett Taranaki / Hurricanes (19)
Daniel Carter Canterbury / Crusaders (100)
Aaron Cruden Manawatu / Chiefs (32)

Midfielders
Malakai Fekitoa Auckland / Highlanders (2)
Ma’a Nonu Wellington / Blues (91)
Conrad Smith Wellington / Hurricanes (77)

Outside backs
Israel Dagg Hawke’s Bay / Crusaders (39)
Cory Jane Wellington / Hurricanes (48)
Charles Piutau Auckland / Blues (10)
Ben Smith Otago / Highlanders (29)
Julian Savea Wellington/ Hurricanes (22)

Crusaders and Canterbury prop Joe Moody has also been brought in as an injury replacement for Tony Woodcock who will miss the start of the Investec Rugby Championship with a shoulder injury.

The 31-strong squad, which will again be captained by the All Blacks indomitable, regular skipper Richie McCaw, features the return of the world’s leading Test points scorer Daniel Carter, who is back in the national side after his extended break; and the return of Blues and Auckland outside back Charles Piutau and Chiefs and Bay of Plenty loose forward Sam Cane, who both missed the recent Steinlager Series against England through injury.

Chiefs and Bay of Plenty hooker Nathan Harris will assemble with the All Blacks for the domestic part of the season as part of his ongoing hooker “apprenticeship” with the national side.

Players from this year’s Steinlager Series squad who have missed out on selection are the Crusaders and Canterbury trio of Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty and Matt Todd, while Hurricanes and Wellington loose forward Victor Vito and Crusaders and Canterbury lock Luke Romano were not considered for selection due to injury.

The squad is made up of 17 forwards (two hookers, five props, four locks and six loose forwards) and 14 backs (three halfbacks, three first five-eighths, three midfielders and five outside backs) and has a combined total of 1,272 Test caps (757 in the forwards and 515 in the backs) and an average age of 26.

The All Blacks squad will assemble on Wednesday this week for a two-day camp on Auckland’s North Shore minus the eight players in the Crusaders, who will be preparing for this weekend’s Super Rugby Final. In their absence, a number of other players will be brought into the camp: hookers Harris and the Hurricanes’ Motu Matu’u; props Pauliasi Manu from the Chiefs and Highlander Kane Hames; Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush; loose forwards Liam Squire from the Chiefs and Shane Christie from the Highlanders.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said the selectors had faced a difficult task in trimming the squad down to 31.

“In doing so, we had to leave out players who are performing at a very, very high level and they could consider themselves unlucky not to be selected. But while we feel for those guys, unfortunately, we have to make the hard decisions.”

Hansen also said the selectors had been hugely impressed with the way the All Blacks players had been playing in the last month for their Investec Super Rugby teams and it augured well for the Investec Rugby Championship.

“We are now looking forward to bringing the players together and building on the progress we made in the Steinlager Series against England.

“The Investec Rugby Championship gives us the next opportunity to see where we are at and it doesn’t get much bigger than back-to-back Bledisloe Cup Tests to kick it off.

“It’s going to be another intense competition. South Africa and Australia are ranked second and third in the world and both had successful June Test series, while Argentina will again bring the physicality and passion which we know they are renowned for. They will also bring the knowledge and experience which comes from playing in The Rugby Championship and we are expecting them to improve further.”

The squad features representation across all New Zealand’s Investec Super Rugby teams with three Highlanders players, eight Crusaders, seven Hurricanes, five Chiefs and eight Blues, while ten provinces are represented, led by Auckland and Canterbury (seven players each) with Wellington (six); Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu (two each); and Taranaki, North Harbour and Otago (one each).

Following the two-day camp this week, the All Blacks will re-assemble in Auckland on Thursday 7 August to prepare for the opening Test of the competition, the Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia in Sydney on Saturday 16 August.

The Investec Rugby Championship – All Blacks Tests

1. Australia (ANZ Stadium, Sydney, 8.05PM, Saturday 16 August)
2. Australia (Eden Park, Auckland, 7.35PM, Saturday 23 August)
3. Argentina (McLean Park, Napier, 7.35PM, Saturday 6 September)
4. South Africa (Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 7.35PM, Saturday 13 September)
5. Argentina (Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, La Plata, 7.10PM, Sat 27 September)
6. South Africa (Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 5.05PM, Saturday 4 October)

All Blacks – The Highlights

* Since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks have played 31 Tests, with 29 wins, one draw and one loss, for a winning record of 95 percent.

* The All Blacks head in to the Investec Rugby Championship on the back of an unbeaten season last year and a three-Test Steinlager Series victory over England in June.

* The All Blacks have won The Rugby Championship for the past two years, held The Bledisloe Cup (played between New Zealand and Australia) since 2003 and The Freedom Cup (played between New Zealand and South Africa) since 2010.

Prince new album coming soon -so he says !

Prince recently revealed that he has another complete full-length album – separate from Plectrum Electrum, which he recorded with 3rd Eye Girl – that he hopes to release sometime in the near future. The as-yet-untitled record contains two particularly notable songs: One is an “aggressive and menacing” rap song, according to a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter, featuring British pop singer and actress Rita Ora. The other is a joyful ballad, “This Could Be Us,” that Prince said was inspired by a meme of him riding on a motorcycle with hisPurple Rain costar and pop-star expat Apollonia Kotero. The Star Tribune reporter described that song as “joyful” and praised its “ecstatic Prince vocalizing.”

The reporter wrote that the album began with an electro-funk number called “The Gold Standard” with the lyrics “wild and rude.” The second track, whose title was not revealed, was a “complex electronic discourse.” The album will also feature what the writer described as a “funkier and nastier” remix of “Funk ‘n’ Roll,” a track he recorded with 3rd Eye Girl for Plectrum Electrum.

Prince spoke to the reporter via speakerphone at the listening session, saying that he has arrived at an album he felt like releasing, as opposed to a series of singles. “I’ve finally got something that is a cohesive statement,” the artist said. He also complained about how difficult it is getting ahold of executives at his record label Warner Bros., echoing his previous comment to Essence that label heads are “always at the beach with their kids.” The musician recently reached an agreement with the label to release music, including a 30th anniversary edition of the Purple Rain soundtrack.

He also bemoaned the slow speed with which the music industry releases music. “Every No. 1 song, every Top 10 song, every song in the Top 40 is at least six months old,” Prince told Star Tribune. “We should be able to make music and put it out now.” In particular, he said he wanted to put out the Ora song as soon as possible, since “time is money.”

Regarding Plectrum Electrum, which Rolling Stone previewed in February, Prince has praised the work of his backing band 3rd Eye Girl. “No one can play like this band,” Prince told Rolling Stone. “People are going to try, but they won’t be able to.

Rollingstone

HEART 104.9FM TOP 30 – 26 July 2014 -RJ Benjamin and CanSkylark at 4 with So High

HEART 104.9FM TOP 30 – 26 July 2014
POS ARTIST SONG TITLE MOVE L/W PEAK WEEKS NOTES
1 Michael Jackson feat. Justin Timberlake Love Never Felt So Good NC 1 1 (9) 12 Last Week’s #1
2 DJ Cassidy feat. R Kelly Make The World Go Round NC 2 2 14
3 Karmin I Want It All NC 3 3 12
4 RJ Benjamin & Can Skylark So High NC 4 4 7
5 Nico & Vinz Am I Wrong NC 5 5 8
6 Clean Bandit feat. Sharna Bass Extraordinary Up 2 8 6 5
7 Justin Timberlake Not A Bad Thing Down 1 6 3 17
8 Sundae feat. Ashleigh Davids High On Life Down 1 7 5 8
9 Usher feat. Nicki Minaj She Came To Give It To You Up 13 22 9 2 Highest Climber
10 Pharrell Marilyn Monroe NC 10 10 7
11 Alicia Keys It’s On Again NC 11 7 9
12 Michael Jackson Loving You Up 1 13 12 3
13 Tank Dance With Me Up 3 16 13 2
14 Usher Good Kisser Up 3 17 14 3
15 Muzart Long Long Time Down 1 14 5 13
16 Katy Perry Birthday Down 1 15 11 11
17 Mariah Carey feat. Wale You Don’t Know What To Do New - 17 1
18 Sundae feat. Che-V & Laurenzo Davids Partly Cloudly Up 1 19 18 4
19 Robin Thicke Get In My Way Down 10 9 2 17 Biggest Faller
20 Mario Ogle How I Got My Groove Back New - 20 1
21 Deslyn How Down 9 12 4 11
22 Nathan Mayor feat. Justin Chalice Do It All Down 2 20 2 23
23 Lloyd Cele feat. Casper Just Be Mine New - 23 1 SA Top 10 #1
24 Toni Braxton & Babyface Heart Attack Down 3 21 6 18
25 ZO! feat. Eric Roberson We Are On The Move Down 2 23 8 17
26 Beatenberg Rafael New - 26 1
27 Tamia Give Me You Down 9 18 3 9
28 TLC feat. Ne-Yo Meant To Be Down 1 27 2 29 Longest Running Song
29 Danny K Dream Down 5 24 4 26
30 Magic! Rude Down 2 28 15 19

Crusaders crush Sharks

In all honesty, very few people saw this one coming, which makes the scale and manner of this embarrassing defeat all the more unpalatable for the good folk of KwaZulu-Natal and beyond.

Most expected the Sharks to lose the semi-final – there are lists of compelling statistics telling us they were not going to win – but it was believed that the Sharks would go out with a bang and not the whimper that they did.

They barely fired a shot in anger. It was five tries to zip in a sad capitulation by a team that verbally promised so much during the week but delivered little more than nothing – six points in the first half and they failed to trouble the scoreboard operators in the second half.

Sloppy, inaccurate, listless at times, aimless in their kicking, ineffectual in their game plan … Those are all words that sprung to mind as the visitors caved in to the sprightly Crusaders, who on this form could well add an eighth title to the seven they already won when they play in next week’s final.

Let’s hope they do because rugby life will be unlivable if the crowing, arrogant Waratahs win their first ever title. They have always been hyped to the heavens (by themselves) but always fail to deliver, but this year they could do it, heaven help us … The Kiwis at least have decorum and humility on their side but they don’t know how to spell those words in Sydney.

But let’s get back to the Sharks, a team that knows that euphoria and despair are on opposite sides of the same coin, and with the Sharks, when you toss that coin into the air, only a hopeless gambler will try and predict which side the coin will present when it tumbles to the turf.

The Sharks primarily have a strategy that is based on building pressure in the opposition half and strangling their opponents into making mistakes that can be converted into points, but when they can’t impose their tactics or are flawed in the implementation, they don’t have much else to offer. There does not seem to be a Plan B for a team that puts all its ammunition into Plan A.

In Christchurch yesterday, the Sharks got a taste of their own medicine. They could not get out of their half because their backline players kicked so poorly. Possession stakes were about 50-50 but the Crusaders enjoyed a 73 percent territorial advantage, and they forced the Sharks into the mistakes that gave them a constant flow of points – five tries plus three penalties by Dan Carter, and if he had been more accurate with his conversions (two out of five), the score would have looked much worse.

The ultimate insult to the Sharks came in the 77th minute when the Crusaders kicked a penalty to the corner, the lineout was mauled and flank Matt Todd scored off the back of a rampant drive. It was a trademark “Sharks try”.

That was how the Sharks had been supposed to score their points but they were never allowed to get their maul going in the 80 minutes and never came close to scoring a try.

The Crusaders had said during the week that they would fight fire with fire up front, and they did, thus negating so much of the Sharks’ game plan. The Sharks bank on subduing the opposition up front, using the platform to get into the right positions of the field, and then employing their big ball carriers to repeatedly smash at the line until something gives.

The only thing that “gave” in Christchurch was the vulnerability of the Sharks’ game plan, an integral part of which is kicking from first-phase possession. The Crusaders also kick a lot, but they do it after four or five phases and when the opposition back three is all over the place and not in settled positions to receive the kicks.

The bottom line is that the Sharks failed because their forwards were matched up front and because their backs, almost to a man, kicked poorly.

That obviously includes flyhalf Patrick Lambie and one wonders (with the wonderful science of hindsight) whether he was rushed back into the starting line-up for such a big game given that he has spent most of this year injured and had just 13 minutes of a comeback the week before against the Highlanders.

Lambie is a very good player but he was clearly rusty yesterday and maybe coach Jake White should have stuck with what had worked against the Stormers and the Highlanders in the preceding games, and kept Frans Steyn at flyhalf, and the rest of the backline intact.

To be fair to White, not many grumbled when Lambie was picked, but the 23-year-old was tasked with producing form that he could not draw on given that he has barely played this year.

Crusaders (16) 38

Sharks (6) 6

Scorers

Crusaders – Tries: Kieran Reid, Nemani Nadolo, Willie Heinz, Johnny McNicoll, Matt Todd. Conversions: Dan Carter (2). Penalties: Carter (3).

Sharks – Penalties: Pat Lambie (2).

By Mike Greenaway

Preview for a tumultuous Super Rugby showdown between the Crusaders and the Sharks on Sat

Tomorrow morning’s tumultuous Super Rugby showdown between the Crusaders and the Sharks (9.35am) has all the fiery ingredients to make it one of the classic semi-finals. It is going to be brutal, uncompromising and a teeth-clenching arm wrestle from first whistle to last.

At least that is how the Sharks are going to be play it, and the talk from the Crusaders camp has been that they will go toe-to-toe with the respected Sharks pack, and if they get parity at least up front, their phenomenal backs could prove the difference between the sides.

The Sharks have made no secret of their intentions to smash the Crusaders up front and then strangle the life out of the seven-time champions by denying the ball to champion athletes in Dan Carter, Israel Dagg et al. Coach Jake White has assembled an enormous pack, picking bulldozer Willem Alberts at lock and bringing in bruising Jean Deysel to start on the flank.

The front row has been in savage form and the youngster Thomas du Toit (loosehead prop) has combined so well with the Du Plessis brothers that there has been almost no talk of the loss to injury of Beast Mtawarira.

The Sharks pack has also been boosted by the return from injury of the red hot lock Stephan Lewies, who has not only taken more lineout ball than any other forward in the competition but also heads the list of “most steals.”

Combining with Deysel in the loose trio is arguably the form flank in South African rugby, Marcell Coetzee, while at No 8 Ryan Kankowski is showing signs of rediscovering the attributes that made him a Springbok.

It is an exceptional pack of forwards and how they are contained by the Crusaders is the key to the match. Behind the Sharks pack, Patrick Lambie has been restored to the No 10 jersey, with Frans Steyn shifting back to inside centre, Paul Jordaan moving to 13 and with JP Pietersen back on the wing, S’buru Sithole is unluckly to lose out. Lwazi Mvovo is the other wing.

It is a Sharks team that will believe that lightening can strike twice and they can repeat their victory in Christchurch two months ago. By the same token, the Crusaders will be “once bitten twice shy” and they will play at a different level this time around.

It is a good thing that the Sharks believe they can win because almost nobody else does.

In the last 11 seasons of Super Rugby, only three teams have managed to win a semi-final away from home and the Sharks are one of them, when they beat the Stormers in Cape Town in 2012. The other two are the Crusaders (against the Stormers in Cape Town in 2011) and the Brumbies (against the Bulls in Pretoria last year).

Going back further, the Natal Sharks won a famous victory over the Reds in Brisbane in 1996, putting 44 points past a Queensland team that was packed with Wallabies, and led by John Eales.

South African teams going east for playoffs in Australia or New Zealand have struggled in the past, winning only two out of 16 of these matches, although both wins were by the Sharks, funnily enough.

Aussie and Kiwi teams have the same problem when they visit South Africa for playoff games, having won only three from 10. Combining those statistics, the total winning percentage for teams crossing the Indian Ocean for knock-out matches is just 19%, or five out of 26.

A more telling statistic is that no South African team has won a play-off game in New Zealand in nine attempts.

Jake White, the eternal optimist, reckons these damning records are actually a positive thing because it means it is time they were broken, and his Sharks teams is the one to do it.

“One day a travelling team is going to win a semi-final in New Zealand, it has to eventually happen and we honestly believe we have the firepower to do it,” White said.

And firepower is what it is going to be all about for the Sharks, and the exchanges up front are going to be so bone-crunching that many a viewer might soon find him or herself reaching for something stronger to imbibe than a cup of coffee…

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, Richie McCaw, Samuel Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett.

Replacements: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl.

Sharks: SP Marais, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee, Stephan Lewies, Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (captain), Thomas du Toit.

Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Ettienne Oosthuizen, Tera Mtembu, Charl McLeod, S’bura Sithole, Tonderai Chavhanga.

By Mike Greenaway

Any Crusaders players giving away needless penalties during Saturday night’s Super Rugby semifinal risk receiving a death stare from Kieran Read.

Any Crusaders players giving away needless penalties during Saturday night’s Super Rugby semifinal risk receiving a death stare from Kieran Read.

Captain and No 8 Read said the Crusaders, who watched Frans Steyn kick four penalties and two conversions to help vanquish the Highlanders 31-27 during last Sunday morning’s qualifying final in Durban, know they cannot afford to offer the visiting Sharks easy opportunities to kick for goal at AMI Stadium.

”We have spoken about that all week,” Read said.

”They kick a lot of penalties and on the back of penalties they get field position with their lineout drives as well. I know it is going to be be a big test for us not to give them any free ‘outs’ there.

”We don’t want to be giving away cheap penalties, really. We want to give nothing away to them because if we do he (Steyn) will just knock them over and keep the scoreboard ticking.”

Concussion ruled Read out of the most recent meeting between the two sides in Christchurch.

He would have been a frustrated observer as the Sharks, who were reduced to 14 men when Jean Deysel was sent off, created a boilover result by winning 30-25 at AMI Stadium on May 17.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has been able to field a side bristling with stars for this re-match.

He has named Richie McCaw at blindside flanker, Dan Carter at second five-eighths and Israel Dagg at fullback after they missed the regular season match against the South Africans.

Halfback Andy Ellis, who was rotated to the bench to allow Willi Heinz to start in that earlier fixture, will also start.

Read doesn’t expect the Sharks to vary their game plan for the semi, believing they will have taken heart from the way their scrum and driving mauls pulled the Highlanders apart.

”I’m certainly expecting them to keep to their strengths which is their scrum, their lineout maul and knocking over penalties. I don’t think too much will change,” Read added.

”Hopefully if we the conditions to suit us we will be able to play a bit of footy.”

The Crusaders, boosted by the return of Carter to their backline (following the June test window) and the power of wing Nemani Nadolo out wide, may back themselves to stress the Sharks defence by repeatedly shifting the ball wide and also trying to get Dagg involved in counter-attacks.

The Sharks’ scrum was always expected to have the upper-hand against the Highlanders and it didn’t disappoint at King’s Park.

Read, however, said the Crusaders set-piece will not be intimidated.

”It is their strength but it is our strength as well. We have an All Black tight five and those guys are doing a lot of work to try and get it right for this week.”

Blackadder has made just two changes to the run-on side that thumped the Highlanders 34-8 almost a fortnight ago.

McCaw, who makes his first start since fracturing ribs while captaining the All Blacks against England last month, replaces Jordan Taufua at blindside flanker and hooker Corey Flynn starts his 150th match ahead of Ben Funnell.

The balance of the side, and their ability to vary their strategies in the latter part of the campaign, have given the Read confidence to say the Crusaders can vary their attack and, subsequently, keep the Sharks’ defenders guessing.

”I’m not sure it’s an advantage but it means we can play different styles depending on defence, the conditions and all that. We are hoping to play an up-tempo game where we can really use our back skills out wide but are more than happy to mix it up.

”And we will need to, especially early against the Sharks. You have to match them up front because that’s where it all starts.”

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Richie McCaw, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl

- Stuff

The more the Sharks are written off for Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusad ers, the better

The more the Sharks are written off for Saturday’s Super Rugby semi-final against the Crusaders, the better, reckons coach Jake White, who is an expert on the South African rugby psyche of performing best when expected to lose and playing badly when tipped to win.

“I see Waratahs’ coach Michael Cheika spoke about wanting to play the Brumbies (in the semi-final), and then the Crusaders (in the final), so people are assuming that we’re here just to make up numbers and that we aren’t a credible threat,” White said, and you can be sure he will be pumping this type of dismissive talk in the Sharks’ team meetings.

White, from his time as Springbok coach, knows that South African players cannot handle expectation but relish proving critics wrong. The higher the odds against them, the harder they will play.

It is a well-known fact that White and Cheika do not send each other Christmas cards, and have had a bitter rivalry (well publicised in the media) since the days when White coached the Brumbies, the fierce Aussie rivals of the New South Wales team.

White will love being disrespected by Cheika, the coach who could got into such a rage when his team was getting a hiding from the Sharks earlier this year (they lost 32-10) that he verbally abused a cameraman to an extent that he got a record fine from SANZAR, not to mention a serious dressing down and a suspended sentence that will see him barred from coaching for six months if he again transgresses.

And White would love nothing better than to somehow get past the Crusaders and then give the Waratahs the same medicine (should they beat White’s old team).

White also pointed out that this year the competition draw meant the Waratahs and the Crusaders never played each other, which meant a top team not losing log points against another top team, and that is significant when a team like the Sharks missed out on a home semi-final by just one point. White, no doubt with a smile, also pointed out that the Sharks have beaten both the Waratahs and the Crusaders this season.

“Whatever the case, the bottom line is that we are rank underdogs,” White said. “History tells us that we’re up against it but history also says that trends get broken. We had to spend the whole day recovering on Tuesday after the long travel, so it’s not ideal. When you’re the home team in this scenario, you sleep in your own bed, you train at your own facility, you’re settled. But in saying that, we have a massive amount of belief in our own ability.”

The Highlanders’ coach, Jamie Joseph admitted that his team took a lot of motivation out of the fact that people wrote them off all year, including the Sharks, and they beat the Sharks in Durban in May and came within a few minutes of repeating the result in last week’s quarter-final at Kings Park.

“We are taking confidence out of the fact that we beat the Crusaders last time we were here; we take a lot of confidence out of the fact that they have lost three games at home this year; that we’re underdogs and have not been given a hope. We enjoy that.

“There is no argument that it is tough in New Zealand, results over the years clearly show that, but at the same time, there are only the four best teams left – and we’re one of them – and we have to believe that means we are good enough to get the result. That’s the nice thing about this competition. Who would have thought we would have beaten the Crusaders last time? Who would have thought that the Highlanders would make the play-offs, that they would finish sixth after finishing badly down the order last year?”

White said that the players carrying injuries could only be properly assessed 24 hours after arrival because long distance travel causes soft tissue injuries to swell up.

“The players were fully assessed on Wednesday. Tuesday was written off to recovery and we could only get cracking on the training field yesterday (Wednesday).”

BY Mike Greenaway

Losing to the Sharks in pool play was so unlike the Crusaders.

Losing to the Sharks in pool play was so unlike the Crusaders.

At home and with a man advantage after Jean Deysel was sent off early, the Crusaders rarely got out of third gear and certainly did not engage their rugby brains.

They failed to press through the middle and then spread the ball wide while the Sharks showed rare resolve to collect their first win in Christchurch.

You wanted to rub your eyes. It was a bit surreal, it was not the rugby order we had come to expect from those who inhabit the red and black jerseys as disturbingly, they played without their usual smarts.
They were without key men Kieran Read, Andy Ellis, Daniel Carter and Israel Dagg who will all play in Saturday’s semifinal but their absence did not excuse the brain fades.

Richie McCaw played that night and even he was unable to alter the side’s mindset or tactics. He is training after time out with a cracked rib and is tipped to be the one change, replacing Jordan Taufua on the blindside, leaving Matt Todd to roam wider.

What is certain about the Crusaders is that they will bring more lineout and scrum solidity than the Highlanders were able to muster in Durban. They were dealt to in scrums and lineout drives and conceded three tries in those areas of the game.

They tried to keep the ball alive in a tactic to negate the Sharks’ power in rucks and mauls and reduce the time they had to reset their defensive lines. That free-wheeling style drew great dividends with Kane Hames’ try one of the best all season.

Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett thought it would be much harder for the Sharks to impose their plans on the Crusaders in the semifinal.

“My concern going into the semi-finals is that the Crusaders’ forwards will match the Sharks’ as they have six or seven All Blacks,” he told a South African website.

“They won’t concede a lot of scrum penalties. The Sharks’ pattern of play — a good scrum and lineout and a strong kicking game — won’t be as easy to impose on the Crusaders as it was on the Highlanders.

“The semi-final will be in Christchurch and while the referee will be neutral, he will favour the home side with the 50-50 calls. That will make playing without the ball risky [for the Sharks]. The Crusaders’ forwards are as good as the Sharks’ and they also have outstanding backs who will create opportunities.”

One of those backs will be Carter who has returned to play second five eighths where he offers tactical direction to Colin Slade, brings up the defensive line and is also used as an alternate receiver. He is the main goal-kicker and with Slade, offers left and right foot tactical kicking strategies for the Crusaders.

The variation has grown with Ryan Crotty showing out strongly at centre while Nemani Nadolo has been destructive on the left wing once he got into the team rhythm.

Chuck in Israel Dagg who has recovered from the thigh strain which affected his All Black performance in June and the Crusaders have a much better balance about their group as they attempt to make the finals for the second time in coach Todd Blackadder’s tenure.

by Wynne Gray

Losing to the Sharks in pool play was so unlike the Crusaders.

Losing to the Sharks in pool play was so unlike the Crusaders.

At home and with a man advantage after Jean Deysel was sent off early, the Crusaders rarely got out of third gear and certainly did not engage their rugby brains.

They failed to press through the middle and then spread the ball wide while the Sharks showed rare resolve to collect their first win in Christchurch.

You wanted to rub your eyes. It was a bit surreal, it was not the rugby order we had come to expect from those who inhabit the red and black jerseys as disturbingly, they played without their usual smarts.
They were without key men Kieran Read, Andy Ellis, Daniel Carter and Israel Dagg who will all play in Saturday’s semifinal but their absence did not excuse the brain fades.

Richie McCaw played that night and even he was unable to alter the side’s mindset or tactics. He is training after time out with a cracked rib and is tipped to be the one change, replacing Jordan Taufua on the blindside, leaving Matt Todd to roam wider.

What is certain about the Crusaders is that they will bring more lineout and scrum solidity than the Highlanders were able to muster in Durban. They were dealt to in scrums and lineout drives and conceded three tries in those areas of the game.

They tried to keep the ball alive in a tactic to negate the Sharks’ power in rucks and mauls and reduce the time they had to reset their defensive lines. That free-wheeling style drew great dividends with Kane Hames’ try one of the best all season.

Former Springbok coach Nick Mallett thought it would be much harder for the Sharks to impose their plans on the Crusaders in the semifinal.

“My concern going into the semi-finals is that the Crusaders’ forwards will match the Sharks’ as they have six or seven All Blacks,” he told a South African website.

“They won’t concede a lot of scrum penalties. The Sharks’ pattern of play — a good scrum and lineout and a strong kicking game — won’t be as easy to impose on the Crusaders as it was on the Highlanders.

“The semi-final will be in Christchurch and while the referee will be neutral, he will favour the home side with the 50-50 calls. That will make playing without the ball risky [for the Sharks]. The Crusaders’ forwards are as good as the Sharks’ and they also have outstanding backs who will create opportunities.”

One of those backs will be Carter who has returned to play second five eighths where he offers tactical direction to Colin Slade, brings up the defensive line and is also used as an alternate receiver. He is the main goal-kicker and with Slade, offers left and right foot tactical kicking strategies for the Crusaders.

The variation has grown with Ryan Crotty showing out strongly at centre while Nemani Nadolo has been destructive on the left wing once he got into the team rhythm.

Chuck in Israel Dagg who has recovered from the thigh strain which affected his All Black performance in June and the Crusaders have a much better balance about their group as they attempt to make the finals for the second time in coach Todd Blackadder’s tenure.

by Wynne Gray

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