By Richard Knowler, The Press
Saturday, 03 May 2008
Last night's freezing weather seemed a world away from sub-tropical Durban but the Sharks would have been cursing television match official Kane McBride more.
It was McBride's brave decision that enabled the Crusaders to sneak home with an 18-10 win over the Sharks in Christchurch when he judged loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett had scored a try with six minutes left to put the result beyond reach.
Crockett's dive ahead of the despairing reach of Sharks No. 8 Ryan Kankowski could have been decided on a coin flip, but the luck went the Crusaders' way and rammed home the message that they are certain home Super 14 semi-finalists.
The Crusaders struggled, there can be no doubting that, yet the Sharks forwards were willing and proved they were more than able to cope with the dreadful conditions.
The Crusaders' handling occasionally let them down when previously it had been outstanding, their kicking game was at times aimless and their discipline was a problem, especially when they struggled to win any favours from referee Stuart Dickinson, who was not afraid to punish them with short or long-arm sanctions.
Crucially, he also yellow-carded skipper Richie McCaw for not entering a ruck through the gate as he tried to slow down the ball following a long-range bust by Odwa Ndungane just before half time.
While the Crusaders did well not to leak any points with just 14 men on the field, they blew a juicy try-scoring chance three minutes after the break when an attacking scrum inside the enemy 22m was screwed through 90 degrees.
Although the sheets of rain ensured both sides were more conservative in their battle plans, the Crusaders still tried to probe for space out wide.
But the Sharks defence was all-smothering. They shut down powerful centre Casey Laulala, and fullback Leon MacDonald was quiet by his standards.
Andy Ellis had a tidy match -- the halfback clearing well under pressure and proving dangerous when scuttling through gaps from the base -- and his forwards toiled well in defence in the second half.
A solo run by Ryan Kankowski saw him hare over for the Sharks' try in the first spell and in circumstances rarely seen against the Crusaders' thick red-and-black defensive line.
The big No. 8 ran from a scrum just inside the Crusaders' quarter, brushing aside McCaw, Stephen Brett and Laulala as he set his sights on the line.
For a team that has been so miserly in defence this season, Kankowski's easy run to the line would have stung the Crusaders' pride.
Earlier in the game they had scored a try to tighthead prop Greg Somerville in somewhat bizarre circumstances after an earlier dab for the line -- in the same movement, by Ellis -- was disallowed by McBride because he lost the ball backwards.
New Zealanders may see more of Kankowski when the All Blacks face the Springboks later in the year. Throughout the season he has consistently had the knack of bursting through opposition defences and was in rich form last night.