Highlanders stun Sharks in Super Rugby
DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — The Highlanders made a strong statement of their Super Rugby playoff intentions with a stunning 34-18 victory over the table-topping Sharks on Friday night.
The Sharks had lost just one game all season but were outclassed in every department, as Otago scored four tries without reply to move up to fifth in the standings.
Richard Buckman, Aaron Smith, Shane Christie and Malakai Fekitoa all crossed for the Highlanders, while the hosts were entirely reliant on the boot of novice flyhalf Tim Swiel, who landed six penalties.
Although the Sharks retained top spot in the table, the defeat left them with just a one-point lead ahead of a four-match tour of Australasia.
No side had breached the Sharks defense in the first half of a Super Rugby game this season, yet the Highlanders managed it three times as they blended brain and brawn in the first 40 minutes.
While the Sharks made regular forays into the Highlanders 22 during an open game, they made a series of errors and were forced to settle for penalty kicks.
After Swiel had given the hosts a 6-3 lead in the opening quarter of an hour, the Highlanders created front-foot ball and Shaun Treeby’s grubber found space in behind the Sharks defensive line for Buckman to score.
Ten minutes later another sweeping move took the Highlanders to within five meters of the Sharks tryline, and Smith darted through a gap to dot down under the posts.
The pressure on the Sharks grew after Swiel missed a straightforward penalty attempt with a horrible slice, and seven minutes before halftime they conceded the sort of try that South African sides usually inflict on New Zealanders when a rolling maul from a lineout took Christie over.
Swiel landed a penalty either side of the break to narrow the gap, and with half an hour to go the Sharks were back in the game when Joe Wheeler was yellow-carded for infringing at the lineout and Swiel sent over his sixth penalty to make it 24-18 to the visitors.
However Lima Sopoaga widened the gap with a penalty, before Fekitoa sealed the bonus point in sensational fashion when he collected the ball on the halfway line and stepped his way through half of the Sharks side to score.