Crusaders send Sharks crashing
The Canterbury Crusaders extended their lead at the top of the Super 14 table to virtually assure themselves of a home semifinal after a hard-fought 18-10 win over the Coastal Sharks on Friday.
With two rounds remaining, the chances of a semifinal spot for the Sharks—who were in third place going into the match—are waning after three straight losses.
Relieved Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw paid tribute to his team’s defensive effort in the win, two tries to one.
“We had to really step up ... some big hits went in there today [Friday] and caused turnovers, and that’s where games can be won and lost, so I’m very happy,” he said.
But Sharks captain Johann Muller refused to give up on the semifinals, saying his South African team are still very much in the hunt.
“We’ve got two home games in Durban. Hopefully we can get 10 points out of those and then make the play-offs,” he said.
Scoring opportunities were at a premium for both teams in heavy rain during the second spell and a try to Crusaders replacement prop Wyatt Crockett in the 74th minute secured victory.
As the slippery ball bobbed dangerously in the 22, the Sharks defenders were unable to bring it under control.
Crockett kicked the ball through soccer-style to just beat Sharks number eight Ryan Kankowski to the touchdown in the in-goal area.
The Crusaders had scored the first try in the 17th minute, capitalising on their domination of the opening quarter.
A pile-up of bodies on the Sharks line saw halfback Andy Ellis just fail to force the ball over the tryline but burly prop Greg Somerville followed up for a try converted by Stephen Brett.
Kankowski answered for the Sharks after 29 minutes with a brilliant solo effort from the back of a scrum just outside the 22.
The tall athletic number eight brushed aside McCaw’s tackle—a boast not many players can make—and then flicked off Brett and outside centre Casey Laulala for a try converted by halfback Rory Kockott.
The Crusaders went into the break with a slim 13-10 lead after Brett and Kockott traded a penalty apiece.
They were lucky the loss of McCaw to the sin bin just before half-time for repeated infringements at the breakdown did not cost them more dearly than the penalty.
Worsening rain forced both teams to play a tight conservative game in the second half but the Sharks were unable to convert a larger share of possession into points.
Kockott missed a chance to level the scores with a penalty midway through the spell and Crockett’s try for the Crusaders sealed their win.—AFP