Highlanders topple leading Sharks 34-18
A dominant first half, solid defence and patient attack proved the catalyst of the Highlanders 34-18 win against the Sharks in Durban this morning.
It was an impressive display from the Highlanders who dealt the home side just its second loss of the season in the four tries to none encounter.
It was not the result the Durbanites had hoped for in Japan-bound No 8 Keegan Daniel’s 100th match.
They were missing experienced campaigners Jean Deysel and Bismarck du Plessis, who both pulled out with injuries before the game, but the early running was in their favour.
Scoring got underway inside the first three minutes through a Lima Sopoaga-penalty but his side immediately found itself under pressure when Aaron Smith shelled the subsequent kick off.
The home side’s dominant scrum and strong rolling maul formed the platform of the South African-side’s attack as they looked to suck players in tight, before spreading the ball wide.
Fullback Lwazi Mvovo appeared to score the opening try after finding himself on the end of a miracle-pass from captain and halfback Charl McLeod, but when South African referee Jaco Peyper went to the TMO, Paul Jordaan was ruled to have obstructed Shaun Treeby so they had to settle for a penalty.
The visitors answered with a seeping counter attack when flanker Willem Alberts failed to find the sideline from a clearing kick.
Malakai Fekitoa started the movement on halfway and the ball went through six other players’ hands, including a strong burst from Patrick Osborne, before Treeby placed a precise grubber kick through the defence, which was dived on by winger Richard Buckman for his first Super Rugby try.
The Highlanders lost strike weapon Osborne with what appeared to be a serious leg injury in the 24th minute, but that did not dull the side’s attack.
As the Sharks seemed content with scoring in multiples of three, the Highlanders punished them with a patient attack capped off by a darting Aaron Smith run for a try. And less than 10 minutes later, they gave the Sharks a taste of their own medicine with a 10m rolling maul, which set-up a try for Shane Christie.
Sharks first five Tim Swiel finished the half with his fourth penalty of the match giving the visitors a 24-12 lead at the break.
The Highlanders continued to give away penalties in the second half and it seemed a matter of time before Peyper lost his patience and sent a player to the sideline. Joe Wheeler was the victim when that inevitably happened in the 51st minute.
The fleet-footed Fekitoa delivered his side its bonus-point try in a solo 50m weaving run through the Sharks’ defence in the 69th minute.
The Highlanders continue their South African road trip with a match against the Stormers in Cape Town next weekend, while the Sharks begin their four-week Australasian tour in Melbourne against the Rebels.
Highlanders 34: Richard Buckman, Aaron Smith, Shane Christie, Malakai Fekitoa tries, Lima Sopoaga pens 2, cons 4.
Sharks 18: Tim Swiel pens 6.