Sharks have still not won in Canterbury in the 17-year-history of Super Rugby

The last time the Sharks almost beat the Crusaders in Christchurch, the referee was the much loved (by his Australian mother) Peter Marshall, the Sharks had a coach in Ian McIntosh who that day involuntarily invented his “thousand yard stare” and the Sharks had drafted in a fullback/flyhalf from Griquas called Boeta Wessells.

The Sharks seemed to have the game sewn up when Marshall suddenly flung a flurry of penalties at the bemused Wessels; a young Andrew Mehrtens kicked the Crusaders home and Mac just about had a pulmonary.

The Crusaders went on to win the first of their seven titles that year (1998), while the Sharks were coming to the end of a golden era and, by 1999, Mac and a host of heroes had retired.

But before he did spike his whistle, Mac had a memorable dig at Marshall. The Aussie was in the car park at Kings Park ahead of a fixture when he heard a familiar voice directed at him: “Hey Marshall, this Japanese car of mine would be a German one of it wasn’t for you!”

In 1997 the Sharks had drawn 26-26 in Christchurch, but it was the 1998 game that really hurt because the players felt they had been robbed by the officiating.

And the Sharks have still not won in Canterbury in the 17-year-history of Super Rugby. They have come close a few times when the Crusaders have taken the game to outlying regions – a last-minute Dan Carter penalty rescued them in Timaru when Dick Muir was the coach in 2006 – and the Durbanites have had to settle for the occasional wins at Kings Park.

So what chance is there of the Sharks breaking their duck this weekend? If it was early season and the Sharks were at full strength, they would have an excellent chance but the Crusaders and the Sharks are going through contrasting fortunes in terms of their manpower. Jake White’s playing stocks are plummeting, those of Todd Blackadder are rising and that includes the mesmerising presence of Richie McCaw, who has spent the last two months nursing a thumb injury. The All Black captain’s mere participation in the game against the Reds in Brisbane seemed to lift them to an ominous 50-point win over a Queensland team that was champions not that long ago.

The Crusaders have got the bit between the teeth at the ideal stage of the competition. Where most other teams are showing wear and tear, they have fresh oil flowing through their machinery. Whether by accident or design, they are traditionally slow out of the blocks, they stoke the coals mid season and establish momentum, and then steam home, often to a title.

They are playing with the same sort of confidence that the Sharks were in the first month of the competition, before the injuries began to mount. Each week the Sharks field a different backline, depending on who is hamstrung and who is not. Each game, another player pulls a hammy. It is uncanny … or is it? Maybe they did something wrong in the pre-season that so many players are suffering the same injury.

Whatever the case, at the beginning of the season Jake White would have laughed if you told him his backline against the Brumbies in Canberra last week would have Steyn at 10, Jordaan at 12, Sithole at 13 and Mvovo at 15. They are all good players, they are just out of position.

You have to have sympathy with White. There have been too many injury-enforced changes to the backline for an attacking game to develop, and the losses of flyhalves Patrick Lambie and Fred Zeilinga were key.

The Sharks will lift themselves for the Crusaders, as they always do, but they do not have a sufficiently settled team to beat a home side that is on the rise.

By Mike Greenaway

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About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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