Knowler: Sharks far from toothless on the road
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OPINION: Before the Sharks' last meeting with the Crusaders, Bismarck du Plessis was asked to describe what it was like being clamped inside a scrum.
The Sharks captain, a 111kg slab of organic South African beef, offered an explanation along these lines: ''Poke your head into an oven, turn it up to 180 degrees Celsius and let it slowly roast over 80 minutes.''
Du Plessis then flicked out a smile, something that has been a rare sight on the playing fields in New Zealand.
Some hookers enjoy conversations with opponents during matches but du Plessis' body language has often signalled he is there just for business and the laughs can come later.
The Springbok rake has always been a rugged individual.
His red-carding, a result of two yellow cards from referee Romain Poite, during last year's test against the All Blacks at Eden Park confirmed he was a man who likes to play on the precipice.
The first yellow card was a travesty: du Plessis had unleashed a legitimate tackle on Dan Carter, but Frenchman Poite and ornamental TMO George Ayoub took fright and he was sent on his way.
It is a measure of du Plessis' competitive nature that he didn't see his sin-binning as a reason to mellow.
An elbow to the throat of Liam Messam earned him a second yellow card, effectively a red, and after 41 minutes du Plessis' work was done for the night.
Upon the Sharks' return to Christchurch for Saturday night's Super Rugby semifinal at AMI Stadium, du Plessis has been hailed as the Viking in rugby boots, the man who needs to fire if his side are to advance to the final.
The reality is somewhat different. There is no shortage of mongrel in this Sharks side. That was something we witnessed when flanker Jean Deysel was sent off for booting Jordan Taufua in the face when the Sharks beat the Crusaders 30-25 at AMI Stadium on May 17.
Later the Sharks were reduced to 13 men for 10 minutes when No 8 Willem Alberts was yellow carded for a professional foul.
After the match, Sharks coach Jake White had this to say about Deysel's actions: ''I can't stand here and protect a guy and condone that sort of thing. He's not a dirty guy, he's got an unbelievable record. He's a tough man, carries the ball hard, but I think he's as remorseful in the changing room as I would expect any player to be. It's not him.''
But the Crusaders won't be worried about the reputations of du Plessis, Deysel or any of their Sharks team-mates. What should concern them is the Sharks' ability to rise for games out of South Africa.
Under White the Sharks are no longer poor travellers, winning round-robin matches in Melbourne, Christchurch and North Harbour.
The good news is the Crusaders have never suffered a ''home'' playoff defeat and South African sides have numbered among their victims.
They include the Bulls (2012) and Sharks (2011) in qualifying finals and the Bulls, Stormers and Sharks in the semis in 2006, 2004 and 1998.
The Sharks, who arrived at the Clearwater Resort at 1am yesterday, have reason to believe they have a compelling case to reverse this trend.
- The Press
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