Sharks first South African team to win on tour this season
Auckland Blues demolish Queensland Reds to keep play-off hopes alive
The Coastal Sharks became the first South African team to win on tour this season with a laboured 22-16 victory over the Melbourne Rebels on Friday, keeping them top of the Super Rugby standings.
The Durban outfit scored their only try off a counter-attack through Springboks winger JP Pietersen midway through the second half.
The Rebels strung together 14 phases in stoppage time to go after the clinching converted try, but the Sharks denied their hosts with a turnover inside their quarter.
The Sharks will hang on to the competition lead with a five-point break over the ACT Brumbies, who play the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
The Sharks were indebted to another flawless goal-kicking performance from Springboks back Frans Steyn, with five penalties and a conversion from six attempts.
But the Rebels stretched the Sharks defence and went into the final 10 minutes trailing by six points after replacement hooker Pat Leafa caught them unawares and scored wide out off a quick tap penalty by fly-half Bryce Hegarty.
It was a crucial win for the Sharks, who face a tough Australasian tour schedule against the Brumbies, Crusaders and Auckland Blues over the next three weeks.
“We’re happy with our first win on tour and our first win away from home,” said Sharks skipper Bismarck du Plessis. “But we definitely were not happy with our one-on-one tackles.”
The Sharks missed 30 tackles and conceded 20 turnovers, three of them at the break down.
Meanwhile, the Auckland Blues demolished the Queensland Reds 44-14 at Eden Park to secure a bonus-point win and keep their play-off hopes alive.
The Blues scored five tries in a dominant performance, leading Queensland 34-0 early in the second half before the Australians ran in two converted tries to add some respectability to the score line.
The defeat leaves the Reds with three wins from 10 matches and virtually no chance of making the play-offs, while John Kirwen’s men continue a mid-season revival after a shaky start.
Veteran number eight Jerome Kaino said he was pleased to see the Blues rediscover their attacking flair. “It was nice to see the boys throwing the ball around and get some points,” he said.
“Once we piled on those points in the first half it was important to maintain momentum and we did that apart from one period where we had a little lapse.”
Blues fly-half Simon Hickey opened the scoring with two penalties and Jackson Willison scored the opening try for the Blues, after a Ma’a Nonu pass split the Reds’ defence, with Hickey adding the conversion to make it 13-0.
Prop James Slipper made it more difficult for the Queenslanders when he was sin-binned for lifting his opponent in a tackle. Lolagi Visinia took advantage to score a second try for the Blues just before the break.
Auckland scrum-half Bryn Hall piled on the pressure just after the restart when Nonu bustled past three defenders to set him up for the Blues’ third try.
The home side’s fourth try from lock Tom Donnelly came from an attack from deep within their own territory, as the Blues kept it alive with pinpoint kicking and risky long-range passes before crossing the line.
With the score 34-0, the Reds hit back through two converted tries when Ben Daley scored from a rolling maul and skipper James Horwill darted over from the back of a scrum.
But Ihaia West put the final nail in the coffin when he sprinted clear for the Blues’ fifth with two minutes to go.