Sharks target Crusaders’ strong point

    2018-07-18 13:37

    Gavin Rich - SuperSport

    Johannesburg - The Crusaders warmed up for their sudden death playoff against the Sharks with what for them was a regulation 54-17 win over the Blues last week, but for the visitors in Saturday's Super Rugby quarter-final there was one passage of play that offered them just a glimmer of hope. 

    It was the moment that the referee awarded the Blues a penalty try when the Blues destroyed the much vaunted Crusaders scrum. It would have been an unedifying sight for Crusaders fans and the rest of a Crusaders team that prides itself on its strong set-piece, and that scrum is being given some airplay in the Christchurch media this week, according to

    Adding to the focus on that area of the game is the knee injury that prop Joe Moody sustained against the Highlanders earlier in the month and which is set to rule the 34-Test cap All Black out of Saturday’s game at the AMI Stadium. Not having All Black Moody present is reportedly forcing the Crusaders to be even more introspective about the scrumming hiccup against the Blues. 

    Veteran front-ranker Wyatt Crockett was apparently particularly forthright in the post-match review, and stated “Look, it just doesn’t happen.” 

    But it did happen, and the Crusaders are taking little consolation from the fact that while Moody will still be sitting out, key players such as hooker Codie Taylor and prop Owen Franks are expected to start this week after sitting out against the Blues. 

    One person who might not be so surprised that the Crusaders experienced their scrumming hiccup is Sharks captain Ruan Botha, who hinted - in fact he more than hinted - before the squad’s departure from Durban at the weekend that his team would be targeting the Crusaders’ acknowledged strongpoint in Christchurch. 

    “We know they have a world class front row and world class locks, but personally I am of the opinion that they haven’t been physically tested as a pack this season, so that is going to be the big challenge for us,” said Botha. 

    Last week aside, it isn't often you see the Crusaders take a backward step in the upfront battle, but if the Sharks are prepared to delve deep into the library of videos of the games the Crusaders played this season, they might just find something to back up Botha’s belief that the Crusaders could be vulnerable to a pack that is prepared to take them on. 

    Although the Stormers lost heavily in their game in Christchurch at the beginning of March, the Cape pack did make a statement in the clash, something that their captain Sam Whitelock admitted afterwards. In the last 50 minutes of the game the Stormers were the dominant pack and the Crusaders looked uncomfortable when presented with a changed scenario from what they were used to. 

    The Sharks front five is arguably some way short of packing the same power that the Stormers unit does when near to full strength and in top gear, but the Durban side has had success at imposing itself physically against the other New Zealand teams. The Crusaders are a different challenge entirely, but Botha, like his coach Robert du Preez, is emphatic that he and his men are not going to Christchurch with the expectation that they will lose. 

    “History is history, but you write your own path, and no team just rides on history. We are going there with the intention of winning so that we can finish off this season on a high,” he said. 

    “This was not the road we wanted to go, and if we could turn back time there are a number of games we could have won that would have made it easier for ourselves. We know how strong the Crusaders are. They are good at keeping the ball through multiple phases but we will back our defence.” 

    There hasn’t been too much news coming out of the Sharks camp since they arrived in Christchurch late on Monday night and it is not yet known whether or not Jean-Luc du Preez will be lining up on Saturday. But the news from the Crusaders is, with the exception of the Moody withdrawal, mostly positive for the favoured team and reigning champions, with All Black captain Kieran Read and All Black centre Ryan Crotty both expected to get over minor injuries that earlier in the week threatened their participation in the first play-off game.

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