Sharks make semis

2014-07-20 15:00

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Two late penalties by Frans Steyn enabled the Sharks to survive a nail-biting Super Rugby play-off match against the Highlanders at Kings Park last.

The Sharks’ next assignment will be a semifinal match against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday, while the Brumbies will meet the Waratahs in the other semifinal.

Last night, it seemed the Sharks were set to win at a canter but the Highlanders nearly caused a massive upset with their exhilarating counterattacking and ability to keep the ball moving.

It was immediately apparent that the Sharks had a distinct edge in the set pieces, especially at scrum time, and the home side rode the advantage to jump into a 10-0 lead via a pushover try by Marcell Coetzee and accurate goalkicking by Frans Steyn.

The Highlanders were under the whip and the game might have slipped away from them in the 18th minute had a try been awarded right under the posts to Jannie du Plessis. But referee Steve Walsh requested an intervention by the TMO, who ruled the prop had made two movements in trying to place the ball. And so the try was not awarded.

Heartened by the let-off, the Highlanders started to bring their all-round pace and sublime skills to bear as Malakai Fekitoa raced in for a superb try. A vibrant counterattack from their own goal line resulted in another try for prop Kane Ames, giving the visitors the lead at half-time. A penalty shortly after the restart made it 20-13 to the visitors.

Then it was the Sharks’ turn to deliver on Jake White’s half-time exhortation to go back to the basics, and a powerful scrum sent the Highlanders back-pedalling and created a try-scoring opportunity for Bismarck du Plessis.

Next, Du Plessis sent speedster Tonderai Chavhanga dashing down the touchline for a try, but the New Zealanders remained alert to the quick counter and a try by Phil Burleigh had them back in front.

But a strong Sharks scrum again milked a penalty and Steyn raised the flags to put his side in front by a point before his fourth and final penalty clinched the win.

White will be perturbed at how easily the Highlanders managed to breach his side’s defence, a flaw that doubtless will have been noted by the Crusaders.

»Earlier in Canberra, the Brumbies beat the Chiefs 32-30 to knock the champions of the last two years out of the competition. The Brumbies started confidently and raced into a 22-3 lead that seemed to suggest a walkover in the offing. But after half-time, the Chiefs fought back to level the score at 25-all entering the last quarter.

A bold call by Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen to go for a try by kicking a penalty to touch paid dividends to put the Brumbies back in front, 32-25.

But the Chiefs came back to score a try of their own, with Gareth Anscombe skidding in at the corner. Aaron Cruden was unable to add the conversion, which would have forced the game into extra time.

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