A last-minute penalty from 50m by Ruan Pienaar gave the Sharks a 29-26 Super 14 win over the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday.
A last-minute penalty from 50m by Ruan Pienaar gave the Sharks a nail-biting 29-26 Super 14 win over the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday.
A sparse crowd was treated to an equally sparse display of rugby for 70 minutes, with the visitors attempting to stifle the game from the off and the home side looking tired and out of sync after the long trip home from South Africa.
It took a half-time change of half-backs from Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper, bringing on the wiser head of Piri Weepu to combat the tight tactics of the Sharks and the stronger running of Aaron Cruden to have a go at Andy Goode, to open up the game a bit.
Immediately Weepu's experience showed in the decision-making and fluency off the breakdown, while Cruden's variations on attack began to open up the Sharks defence. That combination of factors got the forwards on the front foot and the Sharks seemed to have no way back in.
It took something special to give the Sharks their victory. Pienaar's kick from the centre spot was impressive, but nothing compared to the try JP Pietersen rounded off with twelve minutes to go, run in from 70 metres and through eight pairs of hands – two of them coming from man of the match Jacques Botes.
Thank goodness we had that, for the rest of the match was a bit miserable. The Sharks took the lead with a simple try after six minutes by Patrick Lambie, born out of forward pressure – the Hurricanes had barely touched the ball.
Willie Ripia answered with a penalty and that was it for the scoring – in most instances, the rugby – for a half-hour, before Ripia made it 7-6 and then Pienaar, with two quick penalties, made it 13-6 at the break.
The Hurricanes had obviously wised up to the multiple penalties being given away and took a hold of the game after the break. A tactic of keeping the ball alive at all costs caused the Sharks a multitude of problems and Weepu had two penalties as a result.
Pienaar notched one back, and then, from the restart, Pietersen sparked a move down the right of perfect handling, timing and speed for a cracking try under the posts which Pienaar converted for a 23-12 lead.
Ma'a Nonu's try and Weepu's conversion brought the Hurricanes back into things at 23-19, but Pienaar extended the lead with his fourth penalty.
Again the Hurricanes responded, with Victor Vito – whose striding running had been causing problems for the Sharks all night – crashing over the line and Weepu converting magnificently from the touchline to level things up at 26-26.
Four minutes left and it was on a knife-edge. But the penalty went to the visitors and Pienaar landed it with something to spare.
Man of the match: Sharks flank Jacques Botes. He was magnificent.
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Nonu, Vito
Cons: Weepu 2
Pens: Ripia 2, Weepu 2
For the Sharks:
Tries: Lambie, Pietersen
Cons: Pienaar 2
Pens: Pienaar 5
Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Tamati Ellison, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Andre Taylor, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Rodney So'oialo, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 David Smith.
Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 Stefan Terblanche, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (c).
Replacements: 16 Tendai Mtawarira, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Rory Kockott, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Television match official: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)