Highlanders break their duck
The Highlanders, despite being reduced to 14 men late in the match, held on to record their first Super Rugby win of the season.
The Highlanders, despite being reduced to 14 men late in the match, held on in the face of a furious late raid by the Sharks to win a thrilling match in Dunedin on Saturday.
The teams scored three tries each and both had men yellow carded - the Sharks inside the first 10 minutes and the Highlanders in the final minute - but the home team held on for a three-point (25-22) win - their first of the season.
Win or draw - which do you choose?
Keegan Daniel and his Sharks chose to try to win and they failed to do so.
They had four eminently kickable penalties in the dying minutes in this Dunedin thriller with the score 25-22 against them They turned down the gift of three points and went for the win. Make sense?
If they had scored the try that would have won the match they would have got five points. If they had kicked the penalty, they would have got two points. As it was they got one point for being close losers. The risk made sense - the chance of scoring four more points against the near certainty of getting one more point.
Heavens it made a thriller into an agony of suspense for both sides - for the brave defenders and for the relentless attackers, both desperate.
For the Highlanders, win-less and captain-less at the end, the desperation level must have been at breaking point till the Sharks lost the ball and a flykick produced an offside - and wonderful relief for the tormented Highlanders. Dunedin was relieved.
The Highlanders scored first, slipped behind and then took the lead early in that gripping second half and held on - by the skin of their teeth but well enough to get them their first win of 2013. There were no ANZAC Day celebrations this weekend but there would have been lots and lots of celebrating in the Highlanders' capital
A penalty set the Highlanders attacking early in the match and JP Pietersen was sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock-on when a try seemed probable. They stayed attacking and centurion Brad Thorn was close but a turnover enabled the Sharks to clear. When Lwazi Mvovo was offside, Colin Slade hit the upright. He did it again later in the half and then with his third attempt shaved the wrong side of the upright. But in the second half he scored 13 points and he set up the first try of the match.
From a scrum on the Highlander's leftt Slade kicked the sweetest of grubbers through into the Sharks' in-goal where Shaun Treeby scored near the posts. If he had not scored, his centre mate Tamati Ellison would have scored, such was the brilliance of the kick. Slade converted. 7-0 after 11 minutes.
The Sharks went on the attack with a multitude of phases as they did often in the game, which may be proof that the more phases there are, the less likely a try is. But in this case, on advantage from a maul Frans Steyn put Meyer Bosman into a good position and he scored at the posts., 7-7 after 14 minutes.
The Highlanders attacked and then the Sharks did likewise but they lost Lubabalo Mtembu to a shoulder injury. His place was taken by Derick Minnie who was penalised three times, warned and then sank into anonymity.
Chris King was penalised at a tackle and Lambie gave his side a 10-7 after 29 minutes.
Slade hit the upright again but this time the Highlanders chased and forced a five-metre scrum. They went right and, as he was tackled by Mvovo, Ben Smith stretched - and lost the ball forward.
There were three great tries in this match, the first of them for the Sharks. They threw deep into a line-out on the 10-metre line on their left. Lambie chipped, Bosman caught and passed inside to Mvovo who raced away, too fast even for speedy Ben Smith. 15-7 after 35 minutes, which was the half-time score.
The first half had started well for the Highlander. The start to the second half was even better.
They won a turnover off Pieter-Steph du Toit at the kick-off and attacked. Keegan Daniël was penalised at a tackle and , while he was debating the matter with the referee, Aaron Smith tapped and scored at Daniel's feet as the flank offered minimal resistance. 15-14 to the Sharks after 43 minutes.
Minnie was penalised for a third time and the referee said to Daniel: "This player here cannot give away another penalty." This time Slade's kick was through the middle and the Highlanders led 17-15 after 47 minutes.
The Highlanders robbed Kyle Cooper of the ball and attacked with Aaron Smith close and Andrew Hore closer Du Toit was penalised for encircling Jarrad Hoeata's neck in a maul and Slade goaled. 20-15 after 51 minutes.
Du Toit worked hard to win the ball just inside his own half and McLeod lobbed a box kick. Slade caught it and gave to Hosea Gear. Gear gave to Ben Smith outside his 22. The fullback skated away, beating three Sharks before he gave to Aaron Smith who gave back to Ben Smith who gave to prop Chris King who immediately gave to Slade who scored a breathless, 70-metre try. 25-15 after 56 minutes. Tries do not come much better.
The Sharks did their phase thing - 27 of them till young Piet Lindeque, on for Steyn who appeared to have damaged his lower leg, lost the ball., The Highlanders cleared a long way downfield but the Sharks got the ball and countered with Mvovo effective and Bosman rounded off a splendid passage of play with a try next to the posts, 25-22
Now it was all the Sharks as the game was broken by several long breaks for treatment.
They attacked through phases with Frans van der Merwe close but the Highlanders' won a turnover to clear.
Lambie missed touch from a penalty but the Sharks came back They had a penalty inside the Highlanders' 22 and 15 metres in from touch. They kicked out for a line-out. They mauled and Thorn was sent to the sin bin and penalised. Time was up. Cooper tapped and Du Toit was close. The Highlanders broke out but were again penalised.
Cooper tapped and the Highlanders defended till the Sharks handling broke down and they were penalised. The final whistle went, and Thorn engulfed Aaron Smith in a delighted hug.
Man of the Match: It's probably a choice of Smiths - scrumhalf Aaron and fullback Ben, and our choice goes to smooth, fast, visionary Ben Smith for the sharpness of his attacks and the strength of his defence.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Treeby, A Smith , Slade
Cons: Slade 2
Pens: Slade 2
For the Sharks:
Tries: Bosman 2, Mvovo
Cons: Lambie 2
Yellow cards: JP Pietersen (Sharks, 7 - professional foul, knocking the ball down), Brad Thorn (Highlanders, 79 - professional foul, collapsing the maul)
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Phil Burleigh, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 TJ Ioane, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Fumiaka Tanaka, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Jason Emery.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Francois Steyn, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Lubabalo Mtembu, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Wiehahn Herbst.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Anton Bresler, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Piet Lindeque, 22 Odwa Ndungane/Derick Minnie.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Keith Brown (New Zealand)