Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Brave Sharks stun Crusaders

Colin Slade of the Crusaders breaks through to score a try during the round 14 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.
Colin Slade of the Crusaders breaks through to score a try during the round 14 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images.

Crusaders 25
Sharks 30

This may have to go down as the bravest victory in Super Rugby history. The Sharks, who had never won in Christchurch before, ended all that in the most amazing fashion.

First Take: The Crusaders report card

They played 65 minutes with 14 men - 10 of which they were down to 13.

No one can win with 14 men - just doesn't happen in rugby, but the Sharks did about as brilliantly as anyone could have wished.

They were brave on defence, superb at the breakdown and in no mood to accept that the numerical disadvantage was reason for them to lie down and die. They even scored three tries. How is that even possible?

They were barely in the Crusaders 22 in the first half. Not in it much more in the second half either but every time they made it that far, they came away with points.

But it was their defence that was the foundation of their victory. They actually made it look as if the Crusaders were a man down.

And that's because there was a level of sloppiness in the Crusaders' handling that has been mercifully absent in recent weeks. They lost their direction and intensity - particularly at the collisions where they just couldn't recycle possession quickly enough.
They looked, and they will find this hard to deny, as if they thought the game would fall into their lap the instant John Deysel was sent off on 16 minutes.

On that, Deysel gave the referee no choice. Sure, he was frustrated that Jordan Taufua had his leg and seemed determined to not let go. Deysel had one big shake to get free that seemed genuine enough.

But then he looked down, saw Taufua's head and bam, brought his boot into contact with the flanker's face.

He had to go. It was unacceptable and rugby could really do itself a big favour this week by making sure no one manages to gain any traction with arguments of justification.

The game is stuffed if the head isn't sacred and while the African sides have a legitimate gripe to make about how much jersey holding they encounter in New Zealand - booting perpetrators in the chops is not the way to retaliate.

His pain at his stupidity was obvious and how he must have felt such a potent combination of guilt and pride at the way his teammates dug in so deeply without him.

How he must have wondered 'what if' for so long. But sometimes it takes adversity to spark a side. The Sharks went up a gear with a player less and even more amazingly they went up another gear again when they were down to 13 players.

It rattled the Crusaders. They were bemused at their inability to get the job done. They had so much ball, so much territory but they couldn't find space. They made the mistake of persevering with a kick chase game even when they had a two-man advantage.

It felt like the wrong call - made worse by the poor execution. And the pain of this defeat won't lift quickly. There was a double whammy to it.

Not only did they fail to close the gap on the Chiefs - but they enabled the Sharks to take a giant stride towards winning home advantage in the playoffs.

Best thing for the Crusaders is to write it all off as a bad night. An horrific night. One of those freak occasions when sport provides a glorious surprise that no one could have predicted.

Sharks 30 (K. Cooper, C. Reinach, S. Sithole tries; F. Steyn 2, T. Swiel cons, Steyn 2, Swiel pens) Crusaders 25 (C. Slade try, con, 6 pens).

- Herald on Sunday

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