Long ban awaits
The Sharks scored their first-ever Super Rugby win in Christchurch, beating the Crusaders 30-25 on Saturday.
This win came despite the visitors being reduced to 14 men as early as the 17th minute and in the final quarter playing with just 13 men for 10 minutes.
Flank Jean Deysel will, justifiably, be headlined as the villain. It was a stupid decision to stamp on a player's head, nomatter what the provocation. He is likely to be banned for a long time.
However, how Australian referee Rohan Hoffmann saw fit to sent Willem Alberts to the sin bin for playing a man off the ball - the first time the Sharks were guilty of the offence in the match - is beyond comprehension, given how many times the Crusaders were guilty of the same offence (including when Deysel was red-carded) and no action was taken against the home side.
That aside, the cards and questionable behaviour of the match official should not distract from what was the Sharks most important win of the season - a victory that cements their place at the top of the standings.
The last South African side to beat the Crusaders in New Zealand was the Cats, in Nelson back in 2001.
That alone, along with the fact that the Sharks finally beat the Crusaders on New Zealand soil, tells you how significant this win was - a victory for team spirit, guts and determination.
The Sharks got off to the best possible start against a Crusaders team prone to some early errors.
Flyhalf Frans Steyn strolled through a huge hole in midfield and had the patience o wait for a runner - Sibusiso Sithole arrived to take the pass and score. Steyn added the conversion to give the visitors a lead.
However, it then all went pear-shaped.
First Cobus Reinach and Frans Steyn combined, with two shocking errors, to gift Colin Slade a try. The flyhalf added the extras - 7-all after 13 minutes.
Then Jean Deysel lost his head - while being held back way off the ball by Jordan Taufua he decided stomping on his opponents head would be the best way to deal with the illegal tactic that was constantly executed by the Crusaders throughout the game. He was, justifiably, sent for an early shower - the red card reducing his team to 14 men for more than an hour.
Slade slotted the resulting penalty for a 10-7 lead. A penalty against the seven-man Sharks scrum allowed Slade to stretch the lead just on the half-hour mark and then he missed one (after a breakdown transgression) to make 13-7.
Right on the half-time hooter the Crusaders illegally collapsed a powerful Sharks maul and from 40 metres out Steyn slotted the penalty to make it a three-point game at the break - 10-13.
The Sharks got the second half underway in the same way as they did the first, with an early try - Willie Heinz passing the ball into Cobus Reinach's knee, the Sharks scrumhalf hacking ahead, beating the cover and getting another neat touch with the boot before gathering and sliding over. Steyn's conversion made it a 17-13 lead to the visitors.
A penalty against Bismark du Plessis, for a breakdown transgression, allowed the Crusaders to narrow the gap to just one point - 16-17.
However, foul play at a line-out and then a breakdown offence gifted Steyn a couple of shots at goal - the flyhalf slotting the first and just dropping the second with the second - 20-16 after 55 minutes.
Slade narrowed the gap to just one point again, after a scrum penalty against the Sharks.
Then referee Rohan Hoffmann decide that the Sharks should pay he price for an offence the Crusaders committed throughout the game - sending Willem Alberts to the sin bin. The penalty saw the Crusaders regain the lead - 22-20 after 65 minutes.
A cheap, high shot allowed Tim Swiel - who replaced Steyn - to put the Sharks back in front with just over 10 minutes to go.
Slade missed a shot at goal, for a questionable scrum penalty, in the 72nd minute. The referee continued to blow the pea out of his whistle and a breakdown penalty right in front allowed Slade to put the Crusaders back in the lead - 25-23 with five minutes to go.
The Sharks simply refused to go away - from a penalty, that was turned into a line-out and then a maul, replacement hooker Kyle Cooper barged over from close range. Swiel added the extras - 30-25 to the visitors with five minutes to go.
The Sharks, in the face of some haphazard attacks, hung on for a famous and historic win.
Man of the match: Richie McCaw, as you have come to expect, was involved in most of what was positive about his team. Flank Jordan Taufua helped his team to get one player extra on the field by employing illegal tactics and soliciting a foot stomp from Jean Deysel - the retaliator getting a red card. Cobus Reinach was a real mixed bag - some real shockers and great work on defence, even scoring a crucial try early in the second half. Flyhalf Frans Steyn also had a shocker or two, but generally had one of his better games in a while. However, our award goes to the entire Sharks team - a victory for guts and determination in the face of some really strange calls. We don't often do this in Super Rugby, but we are going give Sharks flank Jean Deysel the Villain of the Match award. It was a stupid thing to do, no matter what the provocation.
For the Crusaders:
Pens: Slade 6
For the Sharks:
Tries: Sithole, Reinach, Cooper
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 2, Swiel
Red card: Jean Deysel (Sharks, 17 - foul play, stomping on a player's head)
Yellow card: Willem Alberts (Sharks, 64 - repeated offences at the breakdown)
Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty (captain), 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willie Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 George Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Sibusiso Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Lubabalo Mtembu, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Heimar Williams.
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)