Lambie’s one man show wins it
Sharks fans would have been singing their own version of the old Maurice Chevalier hit “Thank Heavens for little girls” as they watched their team score a crucial 28-16 Vodacom Super Rugby win over the Highlanders at Mr Price Kings Park on Saturday night.
In this instance the words “little girls” would be substituted with Patrick Lambie, with the young flyhalf producing one of the finest individual points-scoring performances at the venue since Gavin Lawless’s record-breaking feat against the same opponents in 1997.
On that day 15 years ago Lawless contributed 50 points out of the 75 scored by the Sharks in a complete rout of a weak Highlanders team.
In this match there was no rout, and the Sharks might well have lost were it not for the way Lambie – who, to be honest isn’t playing his best allround rugby at the moment – kept them focused by keeping the scoreboard ticking over with his accurate goalkicking.
The Highlanders were the better team for much of the first hour, but they were penalised heavily by referee Steve Walsh for breakdown infringements.
With the Sharks playing a better territory game, they were able to punish seven of those infringements in multiples of three, with Lambie on target with seven out of seven.
He also scored the Sharks’ try, chasing down a Keegan Daniel kick after a break-out by the No 8, the Highlanders making a complete hash of fielding the ball in what by then were slippery conditions as the predicted rain, in the form of a drizzle at first, began to fall shortly after halftime.
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The Lambie try, scored with 18 minutes remaining, effectively killed off the game as a contest, with the Sharks not falling into the trap of the Cheetahs the week before by gifting the match to the men from Dunedin.
Up until then though, it was anyone’s game, and Lambie’s try was at the end of a Sharks rally that was in response to them falling behind for the first time in the match in the 49th minute after replacement wing Kurt Baker went over in the right-hand corner.
The Highlanders had built up impressively on several occasions, but this time, exploiting an opportunity given to them by a lineout penalty on the other side of the field, the visitors made no mistake as they systematically sucked in the Sharks' defenders to create the overlap.
Mike Delany, who didn’t have on his goalkicking boots like Lambie did and missed a few attempts that would have given the Highlanders a more commanding lead, this time made no mistake from wide out to the right to enable his team to go ahead 16-15.
But in this match the Sharks’ performance was a microcosm of their season – meaning that they only appeared to really play when they had to.
There had been much directionless rugby from the home team until they fell behind, but the Highlanders' try appeared to galvanise them into action and they set up camp in Highlanders' territory until they forced a penalty that enabled Lambie to regain the lead from 40 metres.
The Sharks were never headed again and were never going to be once Lambie had added another seven points a few minutes later to take the team score, and his own tally for the match, to 28.
It was Lambie’s goalkicking in the first half that enabled them to gain the initial initiative on the scoreboard, five Lambie penalties to three Delany efforts making it 15-9 at the break although the Sharks were ahead 12-3 at one stage.
The Highlanders were the more decisive team in the opening 40 minutes, with the Sharks, the halves being among the chief culprits, too often being pedestrian and indecisive.
It was chiefly because of the Highlanders’ indiscipline at the breakdown and the feisty south westerly that blew from behind them and eventually brought the rain, that they got ahead.
It was an important win for the Sharks as it enables them to retain an interest in both the overall log and in the South African conference battle with six matches remaining.
For the Highlanders, the result was a big setback, as they now see New Zealand conference front-runners, the Chiefs, disappearing over the hill in front of them.
The Sharks – Try: Patrick Lambie. Conversion: Lambie. Penalties: Lambie (7).
Highlanders – Try: Kurt Baker. Conversion: Mike Delany. Penalties: Delany (3).