Discipline absent but the Sharks had remarkable resilience in abundance last night as they pulled off a historic 30-25 triumph against all odds.
The Sharks won't be welcomed back to New Zealand in a hurry after flanker Jean Deysel was sent off for stomping on Jordan Taufua's head in just the 16th minute, but after pulling off their first win in Christchurch - the first for a South African team since 2001 - they won't care.
The Crusaders will be shell-shocked. Despite playing against 13 men for a 10-minute period in the second half, they couldn't convert. Their five-match winning run came to a grinding halt - and the Sharks rightly remain top of the table.
In a match that featured old-school dust-ups and some genuinely dirty incidents, the Crusaders will be devastated that they couldn't find the required execution.
First five-eighth Colin Slade surpassed the 20-point barrier for successive weeks, collecting all 25 of his side's tally, but it wasn't enough as his side were somehow outscored three tries to one.
Deysel's despicable act of ill-discipline should have cost his side the match. Being held at the leg by Taufua, Deysel lashed out and stomped on the flanker's head. He is sure to be cited and handed a lengthy suspension, but also forced his team-mates to battle gallantly with 14 men for the following 63 minutes.
Todd Blackadder would have expected such a personnel advantage to be exploited. Other than two scrum shunts, his Crusaders failed to capitalise.
Even when flanker Williem Alberts copped a yellow card - reducing the Sharks to 13 men - it was the visitors who galvanised behind their determined defence and rallied in the face of adversity. It was impressive stuff.
Their tactics weren't flash but didn't need to be. While the Sharks lacked accuracy and imagination, Francois Steyn's booming boot kept them in touch to trail just 13-10 at halftime. The longer they stayed in the fight, the more their confidence grew.
The Durban-based bully boys had gone off the rails recently, losing to the Brumbies and Highlanders over the last three weeks. But they are leading the charge for a reason. This gutsy performance surely quelled doubts about their title credentials.
In Patrick Lambie's absence, Steyn has copped plenty of criticism since taking over at No 10. The Springbok utility showed his class early, though, slicing through a huge hold outside Slade, inside Ryan Crotty and offloading to send centre S'bura Sithole over for the opening try.
Blackadder's half-time speech didn't work - straight after the break Sharks halfback Cobus Reinach toed ahead the loose ball to score the second and steal an unlikely lead.
Without Israel Dagg's impetus - the fullback was surprisingly rested this week - the Crusaders attack struggled. Their only try came from a Willi Heinz box kick - Sam Whitelock scooping up the scraps and offloading to Slade, who fended off Steyn on his way over.
That was the extent of their fluid movement, though. They spent 16 minutes in the Sharks 22 and could only convert once. They relied on a largely predictable kicking game and go-forward from powerful wing Nemani Nadolo.
The New Zealand conference now remains wide open. The in-form Highlanders in Dunedin next week shape as a testing task for Blackadder's bruised men.
Sharks 30 (Sibusiso Sithole, Cobus Reinach, Lourens Adriaanse tries; Frans Steyn 2 cons, 2 pens, Tim Swiel con, pen) Crusaders 25 (Colin Slade try; con, 6 pens). HT: 10-13
- Sunday Star Times
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