Pat Lambie kicked 21 points as the Sharks beat the Crusaders in Durban.
The Sharks won 21-17 after trailing 11-9 at the break and had Lambie’s boot to thank for victory in a titanic struggle.
Lambie kicked seven from seven but the result could – and possibly should – have been different had the Crusaders flyhalf Tyler Bleyendaal not missed with three penalties and one conversion.
The Sharks started strongly and were impressive in the opening 10 minutes. The Crusaders then settled, found some fluency and with ball in hand looked like they were going through practise drills. They were outstanding, accurate and deserved more than the solitary first half try.
Credit to the Sharks for maintaining their defensive composure and for backing their defensive system.
It provided the confidence for an improved second half in which the Sharks played more direct through hooker Kyle Cooper, lock Piet-Stef du Toit and Marcel Coetzee, who was the best of an impressive forward unit.
With the Sharks making inroads close to the ruck, the Crusaders were forced to commit more to the breakdown and with the breakdown interpretation a lottery the Sharks benefited from several ruck infringements.
Lambie, having not offered much in attack, was brilliant in his goal kicking.
The Sharks backs never threatened and their alignment was always too deep but they had the physicality up front, especially in the second half, to keep the Crusaders pinned in their half.
The Crusaders had chances to win the game when trailing 18-17, but Bleyendaal missed twice within three minutes.
The Sharks, having lost to the Brumbies at home, couldn’t afford a second home defeat against a side expected to be among the play-off finalists, and no matter how tight the win it was imperative the Sharks won.
And win they did, much to my delight, given I had called them to get past the Crusaders this weekend.
I said the match would be huge – and it was.
By Mark Keohane