Sunday, April 19, 2009

Crusaders dump Sharks

Crusaders captain Richie McCaw celebrated his return from injury with a magnificent Man of the Match performance as the defending Super 14 rugby champions kept their title hopes alive with a gritty 13-10 win over the Sharks in Durban.

Sidelined for six weeks with a medial ligament strain, McCaw showed no signs of a lack of match fitness in a stand-out 80-minute display of courage and commitment.

He was in the blood bin after three minutes to have a forehead wound attended to and played the second half with his head heavily bandaged, but he typically put his body on the line and scored the Crusaders' only try.

There were ominous signs for the Crusaders when their scrum was split in the seventh minute and the Sharks were denied a try by the TMO, but the home team had the first try three minutes later when lock Steven Sykes made the most of an overlap out wide.

Rory Kockott converted that try but the Sharks did not score again until the 69th minute when Kockott kicked a penalty goal to narrow the Crusaders' lead to 13-10.

The Crusaders had to defend desperately in the final minutes on the back of a eries of free kicks which had the Sharks moving the ball to both sides of the field but not being able to penetrate a stone wall defence.

While McCaw was named Man of the Match, it could easily have gone to either of his fellow loose forwards, No. 8 Thomas Waldrom or blindside flanker Kieran Read. The three formed a lethal combination and appropriately all featured in the move which gave McCaw his try in the 28th minute.

Read slipped an overhead pass to a rampaging Waldrom who split the defence and put an unmarked McCaw over by the post. Stephen Brett converted the try to go with a penalty goal four minutes earlier to have the Crusaders ahead at half-time, 10-7.

Halfback Andrew Ellis, who passed a fitness test on his sore ribs, snapped over a dropped goal six minutes after the break to extend the lead to six points and Kockott's late penalty goal completed the scoring in a match where both teams created opportunities but failed to capitalise on half-chances.

Crusaders wing Colin Slade produced a try-saving tackle early in the second spell when he came from behind to grasp the jersey and pull down one-handed Odwa Ndungane when the Sharks wing seemed set to speed away for the match-winning touchdown.

"It was very tough out there and we had to work hard for the full 80 minutes to get the result we wanted," McCaw said.

"Character goes a long way to getting us that result and while we've got a lot of sore bodies it's easier to get over the knocks when you win."

Crusaders 13: Richie McCaw try; Stephen Brett con, pen; Andrew Elis dg
Sharks 10: Steven Sykes try; Rory Kockott con, pen
Halftime: 10-7 Crusaders


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