Sharks force last-minute win over Blues in S15
DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — Riaan Viljoen’s last-minute try lifted the Sharks to a 22-20 win over the Blues and ended a valiant second-half fightback by the New Zealand visitors in Super Rugby on Saturday.
Fullback Viljoen scored out wide on the right wing in the 80th minute to settle a game that the Sharks controlled for 40 minutes before the Blues powered back to lead 20-17 with seconds remaining.
Wing Frank Halai’s two tries and a score off the bench by All Blacks back Rene Ranger helped the Blues rub out an early 14-0 deficit at Kings Park.
But having dominated the set-piece to set up early tries by flanker Marcell Coetzee and scrumhalf Charl McLeod, the Sharks eventually scrambled a hard-fought victory when Viljoen went over late from an overlap.
The Sharks made hard work of their clear advantage in territory and possession on Super Rugby’s return to South Africa after the break for June internationals. South Africa flyhalf Pat Lambie also was wayward off the kicking tee with a string of what might have been costly misses.
The Blues, meanwhile, battled gamely after being overpowered up front for much of the match. However, Viljoen’s match-winner ultimately meant the Blues missed a crucial opportunity to boost their playoff chances.
With the Sharks forwards on top, Springboks flanker Coetzee bustled over from the back of a rolling maul in the 23rd for the opening score. McLeod sniped through six minutes later after another rumbling maul from the Sharks’ big men.
Halai powered through a Lambie tackle late in the first half for the Blues’ first score — against the run of play and from their first meaningful attack — and the visitors trailed 17-5 after 40 minutes.
The Blues came out firing in the second to create huge space on the right for Halai to go in for his second two minutes after the restart.
Ranger picked up a loose ball at a ruck and ghosted in for the Blues’ third try, and a 61st-minute shot by Baden Kerr gave the New Zealand team an unlikely lead at 20-17 and a real chance of a first win over the Sharks since 2005.
The Sharks found late momentum with the introduction of flanker Jean Deysel and hooker Bismarck du Plessis, but stand-in captain Du Plessis’ decision to turn down a simple kick at goal in the 75th appeared to have been the wrong choice until Viljoen managed to make his way over at the very end despite the efforts of two desperate Blues defenders.
Sharks 22 (Marcell Coetzee, Charl McLeod, Riaan Viljoen tries; Pat Lambie 2 conversions, penalty), Blues 20 (Frank Halai 2, Rene Ranger tries; Chris Noakes conversion, Baden Kerr penalty). HT: 17-5.