Massive task awaits Cell C Sharks in Christchurch – Vodacom Super Rugby Semi-final Preview
A mammoth task, to become the first South African team to win a Vodacom Super Rugby playoff in New Zealand, awaits the Cell C Sharks in Christchurch on Saturday.
Their opponents are the seven-time champion Crusaders, winners of the New Zealand Conference who’s only lost one in their last five games since going down to the KwaZulu-Natalians in May.
And it is that victory, where they played most of the match with 14 men and for 10 minutes with only 13, that will give the Cell C Sharks a lot of confidence on Saturday, even though the odds are stacked heavily against them.
In the last 11 seasons of Vodacom Super Rugby, only three teams have managed to win a semi-final away from home and the Cell C Sharks is one of them, when they beat the DHL Stormers in Cape Town in 2012. The other two are the Crusaders (against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town in 2011) and the Brumbies (against the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria in 2013).
The second semi-final is an all-Aussie affair between the table-topping Waratahs and the Brumbies in Sydney. The New South Welshmen will host their first-ever Vodacom Super Rugby final next weekend if they beat the team from Canberra.
Cell C Sharks v Crusaders
Travelling across the Indian Ocean for a Vodacom Super Rugby knock-out game is one of the toughest assignments in this competition, but that is exactly what is facing the Cell C Sharks when they take on the seven-time champion Crusaders in Christchurch in the first semi-final on Saturday morning.
South African teams going east for playoffs in Australia or New Zealand have struggled in the past, winning only two out of 16 of these matches (both wins were by the Cell C Sharks, by the way).
Similarly, Australasian teams travelling west for playoffs in South Africa have won only three from 10. That brings the total winning percentage for teams crossing the Indian Ocean for knock-out matches to a measly 19%, or five out of 26.
When the focus shifts to South African teams’ playoff performances in New Zealand, the picture is bleaker still. Teams from the Republic have played nine knock-out matches away against Kiwi sides and have lost all of them.
These stats may not bode well for the Cell C Sharks as they prepare to take on the Crusaders on Saturday, but the fact that they became the first South African team to win in Christchurch in 13 years earlier this season, will give them a lot of confidence.
“We know if we play well enough we can beat the Crusaders because we’ve done it before,” said Cell C Sharks Director of Rugby Jake White.
“It’s knockout rugby and it’s a whole new game, but it’s meaningless what’s happened before and how many All Blacks they have, and what the history books say.
“I’m a big believer that this group of players can beat anybody, and we’ve beaten both the Crusaders and Waratahs already this season.
“If we play well, we can get a win. The Highlanders flew from the other side of the world and nearly beat us, and they finished sixth and we were third. It’s going to happen at some stage that a team that finishes outside the top two will go on to win the competition.
“The Crusaders are a phenomenal team, we’re under no illusions of how good they are and what they’ve achieved, but we just have to prepare as best we can to give ourselves a chance,” added White.
“They have players in their team who won the Rugby World Cup a few years ago, they have guys who are consistently in play-off games, the team hasn’t missed out on play-off rugby in a long time, and all these guys have been part and parcel of play-off games, so I have no doubt that with the team they have available and the experience they have, they’ll be a massive force.”
The teams are:
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, Richie McCaw, Samuel Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl.
Cell C Sharks: SP Marais, JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, Frans Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo, Pat Lambie, Cobus Reinach, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Marcell Coetzee, Stephan Lewies, Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis (captain), Thomas du Toit. Replacements: Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick, Lourens Adriaanse, Ettienne Oosthuizen, Tera Mtembu, Charl McLeod, S’bura Sithole, Tonderai Chavhanga.
17 May 2014: Cell C Sharks 30 Crusaders 25 (Christchurch)
5 April 2013: Cell C Sharks 21 Crusaders 17 (Durban)
25 June 2011 (qualifier): Cell C Sharks 8 Crusaders 36 (Christchurch)
27 March 2011: Cell C Sharks 28 Crusaders 44 (London)
26 February 2010: Cell C Sharks 6 Crusaders 35 (Christchurch)
18 April 2009: Cell C Sharks 10 Crusaders 13 (Durban)
2 May 2008: Cell C Sharks 10 Crusaders 18 (Christchurch)
3 March 2007: Cell C Sharks 27 Crusaders 26 (Durban)
25 February 2006: Cell C Sharks 20 Crusaders 22 (Timaru)
29 April 2005: Cell C Sharks 34 Crusaders 77 (Christchurch)
10 April 2004: Cell C Sharks 29 Crusaders 25 (Durban)
18 April 2003: Cell C Sharks 18 Crusaders 23 (Christchurch)
20 April 2002: Cell C Sharks 34 Crusaders 37 (Durban)
28 April 2001: Cell C Sharks 24 Crusaders 34 (Christchurch)
15 April 2000: Cell C Sharks 24 Crusaders 32 (Durban)
9 May 1999: Cell C Sharks 29 Crusaders 34 (Christchurch)
24 May 1998 (semi-final): Cell C Sharks 32 Crusaders 36 (Christchurch)
16 May 1998: Cell C Sharks 20 Crusaders 32 (Durban)
Crusaders v Cell C Sharks
Date: Saturday 26 July 2014
SA time: 09h35
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Glen Jackson
AR1: Rohan Hoffmann
AR2: Mike Fraser
TMO: Ben Skeen
Waratahs v Brumbies
Date: Saturday 26 July 2014
SA time: 11h40
Venue: Allianz Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Jaco Peyper
AR1: Craig Joubert
AR2: James Leckie
TMO: George Ayoub
Note: If the scores are tied at fulltime in any match during the Finals Series, the following will apply until a winner is found:
a. Extra Time – after a five minute rest period, extra time is played in two 10 minute periods with a two minute halftime.
b. Sudden Death – if the match is still tied at the end of extra time, an up to 10 minute sudden death period is played after another five minute rest period and the first team to score (by a penalty goal, drop-goal or try) will be the winner.
c. Kicking Competition – if the match is still tied at the end of sudden death, the Referee will conduct a place kicking competition to determine the winner of the match.