Late Sharks penalties do in Highlanders
The Highlanders' 2014 Super Rugby season is over.
Jamie Joseph's boys put up a brave effort against the Sharks in Durban, South Africa but a performance inspired by a dominant scrum pushed the Sharks to a 31-27 win.
The victory means the Crusaders will host the Sharks in one semifinal next Saturday night while the NSW Waratahs and ACT Brumbies will square-off in an all-Australian semifinal in Sydney.
The Sharks opened the scoring against the Highlanders after just two minutes with a Francois Steyn penalty.
The opening 10 minutes revolved around kicking and scrum resets until in the 12th minute the Sharks really asserted their dominance.
They ploughed over the top of a Highlanders scrum and as a result the Highlanders were penalised.
The Sharks kicked the ball into the corner and from the lineout flanker Marcell Coetzee scored and with the Steyn extras the home team had pushed out to a 10-nil lead in the first quarter of this game.
At that point the Highlanders looked stunned and looking down the barrel of a heavy defeat.
It looked like it was about to get much worse when hooker Ged Robinson missed the mark with a throw 10m from the Highlanders line.
As a result the Sharks mounted an attack which led to what looked to be a try by Sharks prop Jannie du Plessis but the TMO made the call that he had made a double movement in the quest to score.
In the 24th minute the Highlanders were able to register their first points of the match with a Lima Sopoaga penalty after the Sharks were penalised for being off-side.
Just a matter of minutes latter the Sharks grabbed the points back when the Highlanders were penalised for infringing at dominant Sharks maul and the Steyn penalty made it 13-3 with 12 to play in the first half.
Remarkably though the Highlanders were to lead at halftime when they produced a impressive passage of play.
It was sparked by one of the Highlanders best in 2014, Malaki Fekitoa.
The Highlanders centre received a nice pass from Ben Smith and sprinted close to 40m evading the Sharks defence to score.
Then with time up in the first half Smith started a long range attack from deep inside his own half which eventually lead to a try to prop Kane Hames as the Highlanders held an unlikely 17-13 lead at halftime.
Early in the second half the Sharks had a chance to close the gap when awarded a penalty but instead backed their strong rolling maul by kicking to the corner , they never however captalised.
The Highlanders were able to regain possession and field position and they were awarded a penalty of their own and they were not about to turn down points.
Sopoaga made it four from four and pushed the score out to 20-13.
However the Highlanders problems centred around the scrum and in the 52nd minute their inability to stay solid on their own ball was the downfall.
The Sharks walked through a Highlanders scrum five metres from their own line and in Shane Christie's hurried attempt to clear the ball it come free and hooker Bismark du Plessis pounced to score.
Three minutes latter Tonderai Chavahanga gave a glimpse of his pace when the wing scooted down the short side to score another for the Sharks as the home side grabbed the lead 25-20.
The plucky Highlanders team however was not done as Smith put yet another nice pass the way of Patrick Osborne who weaved his way through the Sharks defence to setup second five-eighth Phil Burleigh to score. With 18 minutes to play the Highlanders held a 27-25 lead.
Probably fittingly the ultimate say in this game yet again was on the back of a Sharks demolition at scrum time.
With a scrum five metres from their own line the Highlanders were put under plenty of pressure and in turn folded leading to the Sharks being awarded a penalty.
As a result Steyn landed the kick which pushed the score to 28-27.
The Sharks landed one further penalty as they locked up a 31-27 win.
Sharks 31 (Tonderai Chavhanga, Marcell Coetzee, Bismarck du Plessis tries Francois Steyn 2 cons 4 pens) Highlanders 27 (Phil Burleigh, Malakai Fekitoa, Kane Hames tries Lima Sopoaga 3 cons 2 pens) at Kings Park Stadium. Referee: Steve R. Walsh