Sharks finally get a break
THE rugby gods finally smiled on the brave and battered Sharks as they overcome injury and fatigue to beat the Reds by seven points in Brisbane yesterday.
This time it was the Sharks’ opponents who played the perfect hosts by generously contributing to their own demise just when it seemed Gary Gold’s team were heading for their seventh successive defeat.
The Sharks, stronger at the breakdown and at the scrum, deservedly led 16-7 at the break in spite of being hesitant on attack, fluffing a couple of lineouts and kicking away possession. But the mood of the game changed just two minutes into the second half when centre Frans Steyn ruined an otherwise excellent outing by attempting a hopeless left-footed drop with the Sharks hard on attack.
From that moment the Sharks appeared to flag as they fell off the pace, lost their momentum and littered the playing field with injured players. The unfortunate Stephan Lewies, on a stretcher, and Willem Alberts, Dale Chadwick, Frans Steyn and Stefan Ungerer, under their own steam, were all forced to leave the field.
Captain Marco Wentzel, during one of the many breaks for running repairs in the second half, was left explaining to Australian referee Gardner that his charges were a bunch of “walking wounded” after four tour matches and they were not trying to slow down the game.
Gardner was understanding — and indeed showed on the night that Australians can referee properly — but the Reds sensed an opening when they narrowed the deficit to two points (16-14) with half an hour to play.
The Sharks, however, refused to lie down with Bismarck du Plessis, Marcell Coetzee and Renaldo Bothma prominent in their strong defensive effort.
Fortunately, they were helped by the Reds who showed precisely why they are down at 14th spot on the log as they kept dropping the ball or being turned over at the breakdown while they had also rapidly picked up the Sharks’ habit of kicking the ball aimlessly downfield.
But, almost bizarrely, the match was settled in the 68th minute when James O’Connor, the Reds’ celebrated Wallaby fullback, attempted to clear from behind his own line. Not only was the kick miscued, but it flew straight to Stefan Ungerer, who was standing 10 metres in front of him after sustaining a leg muscle injury, and the Sharks scrumhalf had a clear path to the line for his second try of the night.
And that was that. It was no means a perfect performance by the Sharks but, after the season’s many disasters, it was the perfect result