Mitch Hunt scored a try after the hooter to help the Crusaders draw 21-21 with a spirited Sharks side in Christchurch. JON CARDINELLI reports.
How does one assess the outcome of the Sharks’ recent visit to Christchurch?
On the one hand, any South African side may be pleased to come away from such a fixture with two log points.
On the other, the Sharks dominated for much of the match but failed to convert many of their opportunities into points. While they showed some guts on Friday, they should be disappointed that they didn’t finish the job to claim a statement-making win.
The Crusaders went into this game without several key players. While All Blacks captain Kieran Read was on hand to lend some experience up front, the reigning champs certainly missed the likes of Owen Franks, Richie Mo’unga and Ryan Crotty.
The absence of Sam Whitelock, however, did little to stifle the Crusaders at the lineout. The hosts did well to disrupt the Sharks at this set piece, and on several occasions, at the ensuing maul.
The Sharks mixed the good with the bad in the first stanza. Their forwards did well to win the collisions and breakdowns and Curwin Bosch was on point with his kicking game.
Yet, for all their physical dominance the Sharks went to the sheds with a narrow 9-7 lead. They may have done better to trust Bosch’s boot on two other occasions – as the flyhalf had already shown his nerve and kicking power in the completion of a 50m-penalty.
The Sharks continued to boss the gainline and ruck battles during the early stages of the second stanza. This time, the leadership backed Bosch’s boot to obtain a reward in the form of two penalties and a 15-7 lead.
The defence was outstanding for the better part of an hour. The visitors withstood a driving maul in the 54th minute and forced a turnover right on their own tryline.
The Crusaders began to up the ante thereafter. Jack Goodhue, playing at No 12 in this fixture, powered over from close range. Hunt converted to reduce the deficit to a single point.
The Sharks maintained their physicality levels. Bosch nailed one penalty goal and then missed a subsequent attempt. Four points separated the teams with less than eight minutes remaining.
The Crusaders continued to struggle at the breakdown in the dying moments. Thomas du Toit clamped on to the ball to win his side yet another penalty in this area, and from there Bosch extended the lead to seven points.
There was more drama in the offing as the game rushed towards a climax. The Crusaders found some space down the left-hand touchline, but Sbu Nkosi made a decisive hit to force the ball-carrier into touch.
The Crusaders kept on coming, though, and Hunt eventually found a hole to cross the line.
From there, the flyhalf added the extras to earn his side a draw and deny the Sharks a famous win.
Crusaders – Tries: Codie Taylor, Jack Goodhue, Mitch Hunt. Conversions: Hunt (3).
Sharks – Penalties: Curwin Bosch (7).
Crusaders – 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Mitchell Dunshea, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Isi Tu’ungafasi, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Ethan Blackadder, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Tim Bateman.
Sharks – 15 Aphelele Fassi, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 Hyron Andrew, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Marius Louw
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images