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

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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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