Lucky Friday 13th for Sharks

2012-04-14 00:00

THE Sharks rode their luck on Friday the 13th and then kept making their tackles as they continued their extraordinary domination of one of New Zealand’s leading Super Rugby teams in beating the Blues 29-23 in Auckland yesterday.

The Sharks, with their eighth win on the bounce over the Blues since 2005, also picked up a bonus point for scoring four tries against the three-time Super Rugby champions. The Sharks will return from New Zealand today following their four-match tour with their heads high — and 11 log points following their bonus point win over the Brumbies and a narrow­, four-point loss to the Waratahs in Australia.

For the Blues, taking flak from all sides, their weekus horribilis continued with their sixth defeat in seven outings and there now seems every likelihood that coach Pat Lam will be replaced.

For long periods it appeared that the Sharks would play the perfect guests as they insisted on playing much of their rugby deep in their own half where they constantly gifted the Blues’ turnovers or made silly errors to keep themselves under pressure

But their defence, so flimsy against the Hurricanes a week earlier, was superb against the strong-running Blues and they deservedly held on for the win.

And this time the rugby gods did smile on them with two interception tries in the first half and then a controversial one for the bonus point by centre Tim Whitehead in the second after he knocked the ball into a Blues player, regathered and scored.

The Sharks had a dream start to the first half, but then a nightmare finish. First, number eight Keegan Daniel picked up a stray pass and ran 60 metres before lock Steven Sykes crashed over and then hooker Craig Burden brought back memories of his days as a wing when he sprinted 55 metres for a try.

Pat Lambie kicked a penalty and converted the second try and the Sharks, playing very little rugby, were ahead 15-0 after 17 minutes.

But their old irritating habit of playing too much untidy rugby deep in their own territory returned and certainly the Blues looked the better team as they dominated territory and possession, controlling the ball through the phases and pressuring the Sharks in the set pieces.

Prop Tony Woodcock scored the Blues’ only try of the half — a questionable decision after the scrum went down on his side and the Sharks conceded a tighthead — and flyhalf Gareth booted eight points for the Sharks to lead 15-13 at the break.

The Blues quickly went ahead in the second half when Sharks Daniel­ passed wildly from the back of a messy scrum and Blues centre Benson Stanley picked up the intercept (15-20).

But the Sharks immediately produced their most effective rugby of the game and a multi-phase move ended with Burden bursting through the middle and handing on to Daniel for a try at the posts (22-20).

Minutes later Lambie broke superbly and Whitehead’s blatant knock was missed by referee Steve Walsh as the Sharks went to two scores clear (29-20).

A Blues’ penalty brought them back within reach at 29-23, but the Sharks, finally playing the percentages with Lambie kicking accurately out of hand, spent most of the closing 15 minutes in the Blues’ half.

It was a most satisfying victory for the Sharks, but they were helped by the Blues’ lack of confidence as they made 16 handling errors­, a couple within sight of the line.

Hooker Burden underlined his value in the squad with an energetic display which kept testing the Blues’ defence, scoring one try and fashioning another. Daniel was typically busy while there was another solid showing by the heavily involved Sykes and flank Marcell Coetzee until he left the field with an injury.

But it was Lambie, who frequently caught the eye, showing all the tactical awareness of an international flyhalf while also contributing to the team’s massive defensive effort which finally won this contest.

Sharks captain Daniel said that his players had been disappointed by their first-half showing.

“But we were much better in the second [half] when we showed real commitment. I’m proud of the way the boys defended and the four tries for the bonus point.”

Blues captain Keven Mealamu said his players were producing good phases of play, but then failing because of their poor execution.

“The boys are really trying hard out there, but those little things really cost us,” he said. “You just can’t play in this competition with that many errors.”

The Sharks, with several players returning from injury, are back at King’s Park next week against the Chiefs and they play six of their last eight games in Durban.

SCORERS

Blues 23 (13) Tries - Tony Woodcock, Benson Stanley.

Conversions - Gareth Anscombe (2). Penalties - Anscombe (2). Drop goals – Anscombe.

Sharks 29 (15) Tries - Steven Sykes, Craig Burden, Keegan Daniel, Tim Whitehead. Conversions - Pat Lambie (3).

Penalties – Lambie.

Today’s fixtures (home team first, SA times): Crusaders vs Stormers 9.35 am; Brumbies vs Rebels 11.40 am; Cheetahs vs Chiefs 5.05 pm; Lions vs Bulls 7.10 pm; Byes: Highlanders, Hurricanes, Reds.

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