Top Sharks brought down

2014-04-26 00:00

THE Highlanders upset the applecart yesterday when they scored a bonus point win against the table-topping Sharks at King’s Park Stadium.

The men from Dunedin came to the country off a bye, and their fresh legs were evident against the lethargic Sharks who lost skipper Bismarck du Plessis and vice captain Jean Deysel before the kick-off.

The loss of Du Plessis and Deysel meant Kyle Cooper made his first Super Rugby start of the season, and Ettiene Oosthuizen came in at lock with Willem Alberts shifting to the side of the scrum.

Jake White’s men came into the game perhaps with one foot already on the plane to Australia as they were 3-0 down inside three minutes.

Looking good at the breakdown initially, the Sharks crumbled as the game went on, and gave away turnover after turnover as they struggled against the men from Dunedin.

The game did not go according to plan for White, as they were denied what looked like a legitimate try after a break by captain on the day, Charl McLeod, whose pass inside somehow found its way into the hands of fullback Lwazi Mvovo.

But, it all went pear-shaped for White’s men as they went into half time staring down the barrel of a gun, trailing the visitors by 12 points after the New Zealanders had managed to cross the try line three times.

The first, scored by winger Richard Buckman was a classic crafted in the Land of the Long White Cloud. A beautiful cross kick behind the Sharks’ defenders by centre Shaun Treeby saw Buckman cross the line and put the visitors in the lead after the Sharks had briefly gone in front through the boot of flyhalf Tim Swiel.

In the 26th minute, a solid scrum near the Sharks line eventually saw All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith score under the posts as the Highlanders extended their lead. Six minutes later, flanker Shane Christie again went over the whitewash and the Sharks looked dead and buried at 24-9.

Swiel managed to close the gap to 12 points at the hooter, and the teams went in with the score 24-12.

After the break, the Sharks staged a mini comeback of sorts as Swiel closed the gap to just six points with two penalties. When Highlanders lock Joe Wheeler was yellow carded for pulling the man down in the lineout, the Sharks failed to use their numerical advantage, and the visitors could have scored again after a mix up between the 20-year-old Swiel and SP Marais at fullback.

The Sharks did have opportunities, but their passes did not find the man as they failed to use the advantage.

After flyhalf Lima Sopoaga had extended the lead through his boot, the Highlanders managed to score again through a brilliant individual effort by Malakai Fekitoa, their bonus point try.

The men from New Zealand managed to hold on against the toothless Sharks who on the day made a total of 16 handling errors.

Despite the loss, the Sharks remain top of the Super Rugby table while the Highlanders move off the bottom and leapfrog the Blues, Hurricanes and the Crusaders into second in the New Zealand Conference, and from ninth to fourth on the overall log.

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