Sloppy Sharks blow it in Sydney
Tom Kingston scored in the corner with four minutes remaining to clinch an exciting 34-30 Vodacom Super Rugby win for the Waratahs, but the Sharks will feel they only have themselves to blame for not breaking a long losing sequence in Sydney.
Poor defence after they had just gone into the lead through a Patrick Lambie penalty with eight minutes to go is what cost the Sharks the field position from which the hosts struck for the winning try, in which the Sharks again infringed by coming out of their defensive line, which provided the Waratahs with the space they needed to put Kingston over.
Earlier the Sharks had led 24-13 and looked well in control, but immediately after taking the game by the scruff after a prolonged period of sustained pressure at the start of the second half finally netted a try, they fluffed the fielding of the restart.
It was the umpteenth time this season the Sharks have been sloppy at the kick-offs, and the net result of this one was that the Waratahs were able to build the attacking momentum, with a drive from the Sharks’ old nemesis Wycliffe Palu playing a big role, that eventually saw fullback Bernard Foley score in the corner.
That was in the 52nd minute, and suddenly from being well in control the Sharks were trailing just 24-20 and the hosts had been given a sniff. Worse was to follow for the Sharks, with a kick downfield from the Waratahs three minutes later finding Sharks centre Tim Whitehead. All Whitehead needed to do was clear the ball, something he had plenty of time to do, but instead he opted to keep it, he was dispossessed and the Sharks were penalised for being off-sides.
The Waratahs took the quick tap, the ball was spun to the right, and Tom Carter was over for a try that put his team into the lead for the first time in the match. They were to relinquish it again later on as the Sharks, for once on the right side of a referee in terms of penalty count, struck back through converting field position into points through two Lambie penalties.
But after the long flight east the Sharks needed to be well ahead in those final minutes and the Waratahs would always have felt they had a good chance so long as they were still in the game.
All four of the Waratahs tries could be described as soft, and Sharks skipper Keegan Daniel summed it up well afterwards when he said the difference between the teams was that whenever the Sharks scored it was the product of hard work in the build-up whereas the Waratahs tries were presented to them on a platter.
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SLICE OF MISFORTUNE
Sharks coach John Plumtree had said in the build-up that his team intended to start with intensity, and they certainly delivered on that. In the early stages of the game it looked like the Sharks’ wide game might just run the Waratahs off their feet in the Sydney afternoon heat.
Indeed, the Sharks could be said to have scored off the first play of the match, though it did take nearly four minutes as both teams took turns to carry the ball at their opponents before a good kick ahead and catch by Sharks fullback Riaan Viljoen set up the attack that released Meyer Bosman down the left flank. Lwazi Mvovo was up with him on the inside and the left wing went over untouched once the ball was transferred.
Although Waratahs scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin kicked a penalty in the 11th minute to cut the deficit, the Sharks were all over the Waratahs in those early stages, looking dangerous every time the ball was moved through the hands to the left. With clever variations of depth of attack and perfectly timed passing, the overlap was created repeatedly, only for the move to break down with rushed final passes and poor handling just when a try looked almost certain.
A Lambie penalty after 16 minutes made it 10-3 but then the Sharks suffered a slice of misfortune as Lambie injured himself chasing a kick-ahead and lay prone on the floor as the Waratahs launched a long sustained counter-attack against a depleted defence. Adam Ashley-Cooper was held up near the line, but McKibbin was on hand to dive over and then equalise the scores by converting the try himself.
In the 26th minute the Sharks’ driving came to the fore as the forwards launched off an attacking lineout, with Daniel dotting down to regain the seven point buffer, which was cut back to four at halftime (17-13) when McKibbin kicked another penalty.
The Sharks, determined to open up a gap and not let potential jetlag play a role, used the forwards effectively to squeeze the Waratahs at the start of the second half, and spent a long time camped in Waratahs territory as referee Chris Pollock repeatedly penalised the home team for infringements at the breakdown.
Just when the commentators were wondering whether maybe the Sharks shouldn’t be taking the points on offer by going for posts, another drive towards the Waratahs line saw Bismarck du Plessis, who again had an impressive game, burst off the side, ball clamped under one arm, which was where it remained as he drove himself over the line.
At 24-13 fans in Durban might have been prepared to start their champagne breakfasts and the celebrations, but unfortunately for them the sloppiness of the next few minutes put paid to that and they will have to wait at least another two years before they see their team break a Sydney drought that extends back to the first year of the new millennium.
Waratahs – Tries: Brendan McKibbin, Bernard Foley, Tom Carter, Tom Kingston. Conversions: McKibbin (3), Berrick Barnes. Penalties: McKibbin (2).
Sharks – Tries: Lwazi Mvovo, Keegan Daniel, Bismarck du Plessis. Conversions: Pat Lambie (3). Penalties: Lambie (3).