Pienaar boots Sharks to victory

04th Mar 2007, 01:25

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Ruan Pienaar slotted a touchline conversion two minutes into injury time to steal a win and ensure the Sharks retained their unbeaten record as the beat the Crusaders 27-26 in a pulsating encounter Durban on Saturday.

Ruan Pienaar slotted a touchline conversion two minutes into injury time to steal a win and ensure the Sharks retained their unbeaten record as the beat the Crusaders 27-26 in a pulsating encounter Durban on Saturday.

With time officially up on the clock and the Crusaders leading 26-20, the Sharks took the ball through numerous phases deep inside their own territory - before utility forward AJ Venter put Adi Jacobs into space. He offloaded to Odwa Ndungane, who sprinted 45 metres to dive over in the corner. And young Pienaar then slotted the winner like a seasoned veteran.

Heartbreaking for the defending champion Crusaders, a major boost for the Sharks - who moved into second place on the standings, two points behind the table-topping Blues and with a game in hand.

The drama of it all in the Durban sauna!

Somehow the Sharks found the energy to run out of deep defence to turn defeat into victory, but what drama.

That last bit of play, two minutes into injury time, will go into Super 14 legend. Nobody who was in the 22 500 crowd at the ABSA Stadium and nobody watching will forget the end to what was really an error-riddled match. You would have to will yourself to forget it as gloom burst suddenly into hope and then glee.

What a finish!

The Crusaders were up 26-20 and must have thought the match was safe.

Afterwards Corey Flynn, their captain said: "We played well for 80 minutes. Pity the game lasted 82."

With just over a minute to go, the Crusaders had a scrum in the Sharks 22 and were set to wear the game down but they lost the ball a little way forward. That became a scrum to the Sharks with just on a minute to play - a mess of a scrum as they tried to keep the ball. Again in the scramble the Crusaders lost the ball a little way forward. Again the Sharks had a scrum with 23 seconds left to play.

From the scrum replacement Keegan Daniel broke away and got just over the 22 when he was tackled. The Crusaders were penalised. AJ Venter asked if there was time for a line-out and the referee told him that time was up and the siren's wail confirmed that.

The Sharks tapped and Venter plodded into the Crusaders. They tried to drive, but Deon Carstens lost the ball forward. The Crusaders snapped it up. Kick it out and the game was won but they went for another try. It would have gained them nothing but it would have deprived the Sharks of a bonus point.

Things looked promising for the Crusaders as they attacked on the left, and advantage was over. Caleb Ralph was tackled near the touch-line on his left and lost the ball in a turn-over, a fatal flaw.

The Sharks went left and right and left. They bumbled passes, but backwards and then Carstens charged manfully, but still inside their 22. Rory Kockott picked up and forged ahead. He gave to Venter who immediately passed to Adrian Jacobs and suddenly the game burst apart as he raced over his 10-metre line, over the half-way line with just Scott Hamilton ahead of him and Odwa Ndungane, the right wing, on his left. Jacobs gave to Ndungane as the Crusaders' 10-metre line approached. The tall wing, dreadlocks flying, head up, knees pumping, raced on a diagonal for the corner as Scott Hamilton strained every sinew to get to him. The three converged - Ndungane, Hamilton, corner post. As Hamilton dived, Ndungane dived at the corner.

Through all of this the crowd roared. Now in silent hope they gazed at the big screen as the TMO looked at the replay. With each replay the crowd roared in their tension.

"Stuart, can you hear me?" the TMO said to the referee. "You may award the try."

The referee confirmed it, blew his whistle, raised his arm and awarded the try. 26-25 to the Crusaders with the kick to come.

Ruan Pienaar took the kick in the place of Percy Montgomery who had gone off with a muscle injury. He kicked from the touch-line, a soaring kick, and the voices raised in hope and then roared in triumph as the kick went over.

It was as dramatic a finish as one could hope for. It made a difficulty match memorable. It was the signal for the Durban party to begin.

It was hot in Durban and humid - 34 degrees and 80 percent. The sweltering players toiled. They battled to hold the ball which was slimy with humidity and sweat. Four times in the match the Sharks looked likely to score and four times the ball squeezed itself from them.

On one occasion, from a scrum, they worked a loose forward move and Jacques Botes burst away. He passed to Ndungane, a perfect pass. The tall wing caught the ball and then it squeezed out of his grasp like a shot orange pip and the most certain of tries was lost.

That there were 30 scrums in the match is indicative of the difficulty in handling the ball.

The Sharks suffered in the scrums. BJ Botha, tight head, pulled out just before the match which required Deon Carstens to switch heads and the young Zimbabwean Beast Mtawarira, a No.8 till he migrated to KwaZulu-Natal, to come in to loosehead where he battled against experienced Campbell Johnston, not that Johnston was wholly innocent at scrum time.

The Sharks also battled at the line-out, losing their own ball three times, one, it seemed, with fatal effect, but it was a match in which, unusually, scrums outnumbered line-outs - 30-20.

The Sharks attacked first in the game but JP Pietersen kicked dead. It was not the only bad kick by the Sharks. After Brett, then Montgomery and then Brett again had kicked penalties there was a lot of kicking backwards and forwards and then Butch James kicked a horrible, low kick to Hamilton who, brilliantly, ran from just outside his 22 straight ahead, beat two Sharks, drew Montgomery and sent tall Kieran Read, who had an excellent match, on an easy 23-metre way to a try at the posts. 13-3 after 27 minutes.

Montgomery kicked a second penalty and the score was 13-6 at the break after the Sharks had actually had the better of try-scoring opportunities.

After the Crusaders had made the early running in the second half, the Sharks scored. James broke, Waylon Murray took the ball to the line and lanky Albert van den Berg took the ball and dotted neatly down as a pile of players battled for the ball. From far out on his left, Montgomery converted. 13-13 after 49 minutes.

It was after this, from a scrum under the Crusaders' posts, that Ndungane disappointed himself and the whole of KwaZulu Natal by dropping the ball over the line.

The Crusaders took the lead with a try which was almost bizarre. Their first try was fairly soft, this one ridiculously slow. Some 30 metres from their lien the Sharks threw in to a line-out. For the third time they lost the line-out and a sort of ruck/mess formed at the place. The Crusaders' No.8 Mose Tuiali'i bent down, picked up the ball and, unchallenged, sauntered the 30 metres to score at the posts. Brett converted and the Crusaders led 20-13 with 22 minutes to play.

The Sharks won a line-pout on the Crusaders 22 and