Highlanders end Sharks' home run
Highlanders end Sharks' home runSHARE
The Highlanders ended the Sharks' unbeaten streak at Kings Park this season when they scored four tries in a bonus-point 34-18 victory on Friday.
The visitors scored three of their tries in the first half and then held off a spirited fight back from the Sharks who did not manage to find their way over the tryline at all.
The Sharks remain at the top of the standings, but took no log points from their final home game before their overseas tour, whilst the Highlanders got their tour off to the best possible start with a full house.
Richard Buckman, Aaron Smith and Shane Christie all scored tries in the opening 40 minutes, before Malakai Fekitoa's superb solo score wrapped up the win.
Tim Swiel kicked all the points for the hosts, who were dealt a blow before kick-off when captain Bismarck du Plessis and Jean Deysel were ruled out through injury with Kyle Cooper and Etienne Oosthuizen drafted in.
The Highlanders began well by taking the lead inside three minutes when the home side were penalised at the scrum, allowing Lima Sopoaga to slot over.
From the restart, Aaron Smith knocked on allowing the Sharks their first attack, and when the ball was spread to the left, Lwazi Mvovo thought he had scored the opening try, only for television official Shaun Veldsman to rule that Charl McLeod's pass was forward.
However, advantage was being played for a breakdown infringement and Tim Swiel levelled the score in the seventh minute.
The rookie flyhalf missed his second kick at goal from wide on the right when Patrick Osborne erred, but made amends by putting his side in front after 14 minutes when Nasi Manu was caught making a side entry at the ruck.
The Highlanders, though, grabbed the opening try after 16 minutes when Buckman did excellently to finish Shaun Treeby's superb grubber kick that pierced open the home defence on the right.
Another penalty straight after the restart, this time for off-side against the New Zealanders, allowed Swiel to cut the gap to one, although more relentless pressure cut open the Sharks defence for a second time after 27 minutes as Aaron Smith went in under the posts.
And after Swiel squandered another penalty, the competition pace-setters were shocked when Christie was on the end of a huge maul from the visitors leaving the home crowd dumbstruck at 24-9 after only 34 minutes.
Fortunately, Swiel found his range with a tough kick after the hooter leaving the deficit at 12 at the changeover.
Jake White's men needed a big second half and they got the perfect start with Swiel landing three more points after Ben Smith failed to roll away.
Things got better for them when Joseph Wheeler received a yellow card for playing the man in the air at an attacking line-out – Swiel bringing the gap to just six.
The Durbanites failed to capitalise on their man advantage, with the Otago side taking the lead back to nine points with 14 minutes to play through another Sopoaga penalty.
Fekitoa then scored the try of the game when he collected the ball on the halfway mark and weaved his way through a whole host of players, before touching down close to the post to seal the bonus-point point try and with it, the win.
Man of the match: There were a number of candidates from the ranks of the Highlanders with the likes of Ben Smith, Aaron Smith, Richard Buckman and Shane Christie making a big impression, but the stand-out was outside centre Malakai Fekitoa who provided the highlight of the match with his superb bonus-point try.
For the Sharks:
Pens: Swiel 6
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Buckamn, A. Smith, Christie, Fekitoa
Cons: Sopoaga 4
Pens: Sopoaga 2
Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Charl McLeod (captain), 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Lubabalo Mtembu, 20 Ryan Kankowski, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 SP Marais.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 John Hardie..
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry, Quinton Immelman (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)