Sharks hang on to break drought
The Sharks hung on to resist a late Brumbies fightback and break a long drought in Canberra with an important 29-26 Vodacom Super Rugby win on Saturday.
If the Sharks felt they blew it the previous week against the Waratahs this win made up for it as this time it was the Durbanites who didn’t have to work particularly hard for their tries, and Brumbies fans will probably feel, like the Sharks did in Sydney, that they were undone by some soft scores.
Not that there was anything really easy about the brilliant breakaway try that Lwazi Mvovo completed with a blistering burst between two Brumbies defenders for what was effectively the match winning score with 17 minutes to go. The Brumbies had been all over the Sharks, as they had been for much of the second half, and it seemed only a matter of time before they would score.
But the much improved Sharks defensive effort held steady and when the ball went forward from a Brumbies hand, Sharks skipper Keegan Daniel was there to pick it up and transfer to Steven Sykes. The burly lock stormed up the left touchline before transferring one handed inside to Mvovo. It was a 100 metre try and it enabled the Sharks to move into a 10 point lead that the Brumbies never looked like making up until a defensive lapse finally let the Brumbies reserve scrumhalf Nic White in with a minute to go.
The Brumbies deserve a lot of credit for the tigerish way they fought in the last minute, protecting their possession superbly as they moved their way upfield only to lose the ball forward as they moved into the Sharks 22. The final whistle sounded and it was a very relieved Sharks team that celebrated their franchise’s first win at the venue since 1998.
The Mvovo try was the Sharks’ fourth so the bonus point win is the perfect way for them to end the Australian leg and prepare for their flight across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, where they boast a much better record. Another win on the road will probably be enough for the Sharks as they look to create a platform from which they can launch when they hopefully are back to full strength when they return to Durban for an extended home leg in a couple of weeks' time.
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The Sharks triumphed because they were better defensively, were more sustained in exerting pressure when it counted, and made fewer mistakes than they did against the Waratahs. That said, it still wasn’t a perfect performance, and they have plenty to work on as they continue to build through the season.
The Sharks exerted a lot of pressure early in the game and it was the product of that pressure that saw Frederic Michalak raise the flags with a penalty in the 12th minute. Brumbies centre Christian Lealiifano drew the scores level with a penalty five minutes later but the Sharks took control again as Bismarck du Plessis drove strongly upfield and the Sharks won a penalty as Charl McLeod dived for the line.
The scrumhalf decided to take a quick penalty and an overhead pass from Michalak put Riaan Viljoen in at the corner. The Brumbies fought back with a penalty from Lealiifano before they went into the lead for the first time in the match thanks to a brilliant bit of individualism from fullback Jesse Mogg, who given a small amount of space to play with by a strong flat pass from Lealiifano (which the Sharks might argue was forward), hoisted the ball onto Odwa Ndungane and chased strongly. Ndungane let it bounce, the bounce was awkward, and Mogg was through to go in between the uprights.
If Ndungane felt responsible for that try he made up for it by intercepting just as the Brumbies were building up a strong attack. Deciding he couldn’t go all the way to the line, which judging from the defenders on the right was probably the correct decision, Ndungane chose to play Viljoen. With no-one in front of him, the fullback used his pace to power in for the try.
A Lealiifano penalty two minutes from the end of the first half saw the teams taking their break with the Brumbies leading 16-15. But it was the last time in the game that they were to lead as not long after the restart a sharp break from Tim Whitehead eventually saw a despairing Brumbies hand tapping the ball back only for big Willem Alberts to burst onto it, kick ahead and score.
Although the Brumbies did draw another three points back and spent much of the second half dominating possession and territory, the Mvovo score ensured that this time the Sharks would not throw their advantage away like they did in the last quarter against the Waratahs.
Brumbies – Tries: Jesse Mogg, Nick White. Conversions: Christian Lealiifano (2). Penalties: Lealiifano (4).
Sharks – Tries: Riaan Viljoen (2), Willem Alberts, Lwazi Mvovo. Conversions: Frederic Michalak (3) Penalty: Michalak.