Kieran Read scored a 72nd-minute try to hand the Crusaders a hard-fought 19-14 victory over the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
The Sharks’ four-match unbeaten streak has come to an end. It will be a bitter pill for the coastal side to swallow considering they led for most of the second half, but in the end the Crusaders struck when it mattered most.
After a 15-phase movement, Read burst over to score and secure another win for the Crusaders in Durban. Saturday’s clash certainly had no bearing on last year’s 52-10 rout, but again the Kiwis were worthy winners.
Throughout the encounter, the Saders enjoyed considerable territorial advantage and bested the Sharks in the battle up front, but they also failed to make the most of that ascendancy.
Two breakaway tries to winger Lwazi Mvovo on either side of half-time kept the Sharks in the clash, but in the end the Crusaders managed to wear down the Durban-based side’s dogged defence to come away with the spoils.
The Crusaders bossed proceedings for the majority of the opening stanza, spending plenty of time camped in Sharks territory and forcing them to make an inordinate amount of tackles. They also peppered the Sharks’ back three with a number of testing high kicks, but these were generally well handled by the hosts.
The visitors’ All Blacks-laden pack also got the better of their South African counterparts in a real battle of attrition up front, winning regular scrum penalties, while the Sharks’ lineout also malfunctioned at times.
However, despite all of the Crusaders’ early dominance, they were only able to convert one opportunity into points, with winger Nemani Nadolo drawing two defenders before slipping the ball to fullback David Havili, who went over to score in the 25th minute.
Yet five minutes before half-time, and completely against the run of play, Mvovo intercepted a loose long pass from flyhalf Richie Mo’unga and ran some 60m to score an important try that enabled the Sharks to suddenly draw the scores level.
Just before the break, the Crusaders won yet another scrum penalty, but Mo’unga missed his second penalty of the half to let the Sharks off the hook once again.
The Sharks would have been thrilled with the 7-7 half-time scoreline, having lost both the territorial and set-piece battle, but their much-improved defence once again kept them in the game.
At the interval, Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold spoke about the need to protect possession better and change some of their tactics, and they enjoyed the ideal start to the second stanza when Mvovo pounced on a dropped ball and darted over to score.
Along with another missed penalty from Mo’unga just after the restart, good fortune was clearly on the Sharks’ side, and despite the fact they’d played virtually no rugby, they somehow found themselves seven points ahead.
The Crusaders’ shocking self-implosion then appeared to continue as Havili shoulder-charged Sharks centre André Esterhuizen off the ball, which not only saw a penalty reversed but earned the fullback 10 minutes in the sin bin.
Nevertheless, the curious nature of the clash then saw Nadolo display typically impressive strength to score in the corner as the Sharks’ defence finally gave way despite their one-man advantage. And almost immediately after, Crusaders winger Johnny McNicholl looked to have been put away for another five-pointer, but a superb tackle from Philip van der Walt saw him force Kieron Fonotia’s foot into touch in the lead-up to the try.
It allowed the Sharks to hang on to a tenuous 14-12 lead, and although that advantage looked to have been extended in the 66th minute when Willie le Roux dotted down, this time it was the hosts’ turn to be denied a try, with the fullback ruled to have been ahead of the kicker.
It was a game-changing moment as Read then struck moments later to break the hearts of Sharks fans.
Sharks – 14
Tries: Lwazi Mvovo (2)
Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2)
Crusaders – 19
Tries: David Havili, Nemani Nadolo, Kieran Read
Conversions: Richie Mo’unga, Nadolo.
Sharks: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (c)
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Daniel du Preez, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Garth April, 23 Odwa Ndungane
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21 Tim Boys, 22 Mitchell Drummond, 23 Ben Volavola
Date: Saturday, March 26
Venue: Kings Park Stadium, Durban
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Johan Greeff