Highlanders put Sharks to the sword

Date published: May 1 2015

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The Highlanders returned to the victory trail with a comprehensive 48-15 victory over the Sharks in Dunedin on Friday.

The men from New Zealand's South Island came off second best against the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend but they were in control of this match from start to finish.

The Highlanders battled to convert their dominance into points during the opening quarter. This was largely to the Sharks' defensive effort early on but as the game progressed, the hosts' stepped up several gears and they eventually outscored their visitors by seven tries to two.

The Durban-based outfit battled to settle and after repelling several attacking efforts from the kick-off, Gareth Evans got over for the game's opening try in the fifth minute.

This was after the hosts took the ball through several phases inside the Sharks' 22 and in the end Evans had an easy run-in after gathering a pass from Nasi Manu.

That was a sign of things to come as the Highlanders crossed over for two further tries during the opening half.

The Sharks managed to contain their hosts for a short while, after Evans' try, with Lima Sopoaga and Fred Zeilinga trading penalties before the Sharks fought back with a Beast Mtawarira try in the 31st minute.

The burly prop charged over from close quarters after Willem Alberts laid the foundation with a bullocking run inside the Highlanders' 22.

Zeilinga added the extras to level the score at 10-10 but the Highlanders were back in the ascendancy with tries from Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne which gave them a 24-10 lead at half-time.

Naholo's effort was a gem and after the Smiths – Aaron and Ben – combined brilliantly in the build-up, Sopoaga had the presence of mind to launch a perfectly-weighted crossfield kick which the speedster gathered inside the visitors' 22 where he shrugged off a challenge from Odwa Ndungane before scoring in the right-hand corner.

The Sharks began the second half strongly but had little to show for their efforts. Inside the first five minutes of the restart, both Bismarck du Plessis and Stephan Lewies were held up in the tackle after crossing the Highlanders' try-line.

Those setbacks seemed to have an adverse effect on the visitors and the Highlanders soon secured their try-scoring bonus point in bizarre fashion.

From a lineout deep inside their half, Sharks skipper Marco Wentzel tapped the ball over his try-line. Replacement scrum-half Conrad Hoffmann thought he had the situation under control but Mark Reddish burst through the set-phase and got his hand onto the bouncing ball to the amazement of Hoffmann.

Referee Angus Gardner checked with his TMO if a try was indeed scored and after the official gave his confirmation, the wind seemed to be knocked out of the visitors' sails.

Despite having their fourth try, the Highlanders didn't ease up and were rewarded with three further tries from Aaron Smith, Brendon Edmonds and Elliot Dixon, and sandwiched in between was a consolation try from Du Plessis.

Edmonds' effort was the best of the lot and came after a Highlanders attack from inside their own 22 in which Sopoaga, Malakai Fekitoa and Dan Pryor played prominent roles.

The victory has consolidated the Highlanders' position on the table and they are now in fifth spot with 33 points from 10 matches.

The scorers:

For Highlanders:

Tries: Evans, Naholo, Osborne, Reddish, A Smith, Edmonds, Dixon
Cons: Sopoaga 5
Pen: Sopoaga

For Sharks:
Tries: Mtawarira, B du Plessis
Con: Zeilinga
Pen: Zeilinga

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Brendon Edmonds, 18 Pingi Tala’apitaga, 19 Joe Latta, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Jason Emery.

Sharks: 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 S'bura Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Etienne Oosthuizen, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Lionel Cronje, 23 Waylon Murray.

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)

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