Highlanders outclass Super Rugby leaders
April 26, 2014
The Highlanders kept the Sharks tryless and demonstrated their strength
© Getty Images
The Highlanders stunned the listless Sharks 34-18 in one of the upsets of the season to tighten up the top half of the Super Rugby table on Friday. The visitors scored four tries to none in Durban, hammering the competition leaders in most aspects of the game to climb to fifth place midway through round 11 with a five win-three loss record.
A second loss from nine games for the Sharks sees their advantage over the second-placed ACT Brumbies remain at just one point, with a four-match Australasian tour beginning next week.
An error-ridden performance was ruthlessly exposed by the Highlanders who matched the home side's vaunted pack and outplayed them tactically through a superior kicking game from halves Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga.
The Sharks were upset by the Highlanders in Durban (video in Australia only)
Highlanders fullback Ben Smith and centre Malakai Fekitoa were the game's most potent runners, with Fekitoa surging 50m for a brilliant solo try to secure a bonus point 10min from the end. By contrast, the Sharks were bereft of attacking ideas, relying on six penalties from five-eighth Tim Swiel. Sopoaga landed all his six shots to lifts him past Lions counterpart Marnitz Boshoff to a competition-leading 123 points for the season.
The Highlanders first win in Durban since 2005 was built around a three-try burst in the space of 16 minutes after trailing 6-3 midway through the first spell. Wing Richard Buckman scored from a neat grubber by centre Shaun Treeby before Aaron Smith dived across under the crossbar following a series of quick rucks. Flanker Shane Christie then drove over from a lineout to put his team 24-9 ahead although Swiel had the final say in the first half with his fourth penalty.
The Highlanders' win was all the more meritorious for having lost wing Patrick Osborne and Christie to injuries in the first half. They were also without lock Joe Wheeler for 10 minutes soon after half-time when he was shown a yellow card for his team's persistent offending. They copped 16 penalties to the Sharks' seven.
The Highlanders will pursue a fourth successive win when they face the Stormers in Cape Town next weekend.