Sharks keep the flag flying

2010-04-05 00:00

THE Sharks, only just, kept the South African flag flying in round eight of the Super 14 as they narrowly edged out the Reds 30-28 in Durban. The champion Bulls, the Cheetahs and the Stormers were all disappointingly beaten Down Under.

The Bulls and the Stormers were toppled from the top of the log by the Waratahs, who comfortably thumped the depleted, dispirited Cheetahs 40-17 in Sydney.

The Lions, helped by their bye, avoided defeat for the first weekend this season.

The Bulls’ unbeaten run was emphatically ended by the impressive Blues, who outmuscled the champions and repeatedly broke their defensive lines on the way to a 32-17 win in Auckland.

The Bulls were badly beaten at the breakdown where they were also heavily punished by South African referee Craig Joubert. He issued several warnings and then yellow-carded replacement loose forward Pedrie Wannenburg at a crucial stage of the match.

“There were just too many missed tackles for us to be competitive against a side as good as the Blues,” coach Frans Ludeke told reporters. “The number of turnovers they were able to make shows just how important it is to be strong in the collisions under the new breakdown law interpretations.”

What was disturbing about the game was the number of head-on tackles made by the Blues and several Bulls players suffered facial injuries ahead of their game against the Chiefs on Friday.

The Waratahs, the new leaders, were decidedly lucky to beat the Reds, Sharks and Blues earlier this season, but they were full value for their win over the Cheetahs, who lacked direction on attack and missed far too many tackles.

The Waratahs are ahead on points difference at the top of the log, but the second-placed Bulls have a match in hand. The Stormers have dropped to fourth after losing 16-15 to the lowly Force in Perth on Friday, and they now have a real test against the Blues in Auckland on Saturday.

The Sharks, relying heavily on their forwards, showed real character in hanging on for the two-point win over the young, enterprising Reds outfit.

The limited Sharks looked to be heading for a home defeat when they trailed 21-9 early in the second half. But they tightened their approach and their mauling, driving forwards dominated the second half as they ground their way to a win with three tries after the break.

The Reds, keeping the ball in hand and inspired by the side-stepping, creative Quade Cooper at flyhalf, tore holes in the Sharks’ defences in the first half.

Significantly, the Sharks, booting away possession and chasing badly, were forced to make three times as many tackles as the Reds in the first half.

And when another poor kick allowed fullback Peter Hynes to burst through the middle and centre Will Chambers, with the help of a forward pass, scored his second try just three minutes into the second half, it seemed there would be only one winner.

But the Sharks, solid in the scrum, effective at the lineout and competing fiercely at the breakdown, drove the Reds back into their quarter where they spent most of the second half. While the elusive, slick Reds’ backs, feeding off Cooper, fashioned their four tries with ease, the Sharks were forced to work exceptionally hard in putting Jacques Botes, Odwa ­Ndunagne and JP Pietersen over.

Sharks captain John Smit said his team had changed tactics in mid-stream.

“We were too loose in the first half. The Reds have got some unbelievable backs and we realised we had to tighten things up and play in their half.”

Reds captain Will Genia and coach Ewen McKenzie praised the Sharks for playing to their strengths and using their strong forwards to change the course of the game in the second half.

Weekend scores and scorers (home team first):

Sharks 30 Reds 28

Scorers: Sharks – Tries: Odwa Ndungane, Jacques Botes, JP Pietersen; Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (3); Penalties: Pienaar (3). Reds – Tries: Will Chambers (2), Quade Cooper, Greg Holmes; Conversions: Cooper (4).

Blues 32 Bulls 17

Scorers: Blues – Tries: Isaia Toeava, Joe Rokocoko; Conversions: Stephen Brett (2); Penalties: Brett (5). Bulls – Try: Pierre Spies; Penalties: Morne Steyn (3); Drop goal: Steyn (1).

Waratahs 40 Cheetahs 17

Scorers: Waratahs – Tries: Rob Horne, Benn Robinson, Al Baxter, Kurtley Beale, Josh Holmes; Conversions: Daniel Halangahu (2), Berrick Barnes; Penalties: Halangahu (3). Cheetahs – Tries: WP Nel, Corne Uys; Conversions: Meyer Bosman (2); Penalty: Naas Olivier.

Chiefs 27 Highlanders 21

Scorers: Chiefs – Tries: Stephen Donald, Sione Lauaki, Sona Taumalolo; Conversions: Donald (3); Penalties: Donald (2). Highlanders – Tries: Hayden Triggs, Fetu’u Vainikolo; Conversion: Israel Dagg; Penalties: Dagg (2); Drop goal: Robbie Robinson.

Friday’s matches

Hurricanes 26 Crusaders 26

Force 16 Stormers 15

This weekend’s fixtures (SA times, home team first)

Friday:

Chiefs vs Bulls 9.35 am

Saturday:

Highlanders vs. Force, 4.30 am

Blues vs Stormers, 7.30 am

Crusaders vs Waratahs, 9.35 am

Brumbies vs. Cheetahs, 11.40 am

Lions vs. Reds, 7.10 pm

Byes: Sharks and Hurricanes

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