A sad day for uninspired Sharks

2009-05-10 00:00

THE Bulls had their dream Super 14 weekend to go top of the log while the Sharks’ late-season nightmare continued with another Durban defeat and they now need a series of rugby miracles to reach the play-offs.

Two moments of Bryan Habana inspiration — with the second producing an injury time interception try for a bonus point — sent Loftus into raptures as the Cheetahs were downed 29-20 by the Bulls, who are now one point clear at the top of the log.

In contrast, at a wet King’s Park, the Sharks lost 16-12 to the Waratahs to drop to tied sixth on the log.

John Plumtree’s team, after their perfect start to the season, which saw four successive wins, have now sunk almost without trace, picking up only six log points in their last four games.

Mathematically they can still reach the play-offs, but they need the Chiefs to beat the Brumbies in Hamilton and the Hurricanes, playing the Reds in Brisbane, and the Crusaders, facing the Blues in Auckland, to lose. Oh, and they have to beat the Bulls at King’s Park on Saturday. Few of those who watched them lose again on Saturday — and, significantly, that includes John Plumtree — will be holding their breath.

“We don’t deserve to be there [in the play-offs], simple as that,” said Plumtree. “The Waratahs wanted it more than we did and that’s sad.”

The Sharks, lacking the urgency and sharpness of old, trailed 6-8 to the Waratahs after a first half of safety-first kicking. The Sharks, in heavy rain, came out with greater purpose in the second and camped in the Waratahs quarter, showing improved retention skills as they kept taking a wet ball through the phases in slippery conditions. But the organised Waratahs defence just managed to keep them out and four Ruan Pienaar penalties were all they had to show for their efforts on the day.

“We had our chances to win the game in the second half, and some close decisions went against us, but that’s rugby and this is no time for excuses,” said Plumtree.

The Sharks led 12-11 with 15 minutes remaining but, ironically, the game turned on a series of mistakes by fullback Stefan Terblanche, their most consistent player this season. First, as the Waratahs finally cleared their quarter, and in fielding a long kick close to his line he conceded an attacking lineout. Moments later the Sharks fullback aimed a crude fly hack at a bouncing ball on his line, missed and wing Peter Playford was gifted the winning try (16-12).

The Waratahs deserved their win. They were stronger in the first half, they exposed the fancied Sharks at the scrum and their defence was superb.

Waratahs coach Chris Hickey said the “fantastic defensive effort of his players and the scrummaging of his forwards against a quality Sharks pack were the most significant factors in the win”.

Certainly Waratahs scrumhalf Luke Burgess produced the tackle of the day, felling a flying JP Pietersen metres from the line at a critical stage. Pietersen did worm his way over to dot down, but referee Mark Lawrence penalised him for a double movement.

The top-four placings changed throughout the weekend and the play-off places are still up for grabs with only the Bulls definitely through to the semi-finals. The Pretoria side will be coming to Durban looking for a win, which will secure a home final.

Earlier in the weekend, the Chiefs beat the Hurricanes 16-8 to briefly claim top spot and the lack of bonus points in the match also boosted the Bulls.

The Brumbies, making a late charge, stayed in play-off contention with a 37-15 victory over the Blues, while the Crusaders kept their title defence alive with the 32-12 win over the Reds.

The Stormers erased some of their blushes with a 25-24 win over the Force at Newlands, but the Australians were later highly critical of the match officials for allowing the winning try by Joe Pietersen, which they claimed followed blatant obstruction.

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