The Highlanders compounded the Sharks' woes as they ran out 48-15 victors in Dunedin on Friday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
If the Sharks harboured any hopes of a play-off place, they were well and truly extinguished in Dunedin. However, it was the manner of the defeat – their seventh of the season – that will be of the biggest concern for those involved with the Durban-based franchise.
The lack of urgency was astounding and doesn't bode well for the rest of the Australasian tour, which heads to Wellington for a match against the log-leading Hurricanes and a former coach next weekend.
The issues that have plagued the Sharks all season were once again apparent in Dunedin. The team lacked cohesion on defence, their tactical kicking was wayward and they failed to place any pressure on the hosts during another dismal 80 minutes.
The Highlanders scored some wonderful tries, but were helped immeasurably by the Sharks' poor defence. The Sharks' limitations on attack were also apparent, most notably at the start of the second half, where they spent over 20 phases camped in the Highlanders 22 but were unable to breach the tryline.
The rout started as early as the fifth minute, as Gareth Evans crossed for the first try. Odwa Ndungane rushed out of the defensive line, only to miss his tackle and allow the flank in.
The Sharks' struggles in the early stages were compounded by poor decision-making, as they kicked away what little ball they did receive, with Fred Zeilinga guilty on a number of occasions. In contrast, the Highlanders put the Sharks' back three under pressure with some clever kicks in behind.
A Zeilinga penalty got the Sharks on the board, before a close-range try from Beast Mtawarira brought them level after 32 minutes. However, the Highlanders upped the tempo and the Sharks couldn't stay with them, conceding two tries in quick succession just before half-time.
The first, a flowing end-to-end move resulted in a try for Waisake Naholo, following a deft kick by Lima Sopoaga, while the second came after an error from the restart, and yet more missed tackles.
Earlier this week Gary Gold called for his side to show character, but their second-half showing suggests his request fell on deaf ears. They conceded four further tries, while Bismarck du Plessis's effort from the back of a rolling maul brought little respite.
Only some wayward kicking from the tee prevented the Highlanders from passing the 50-point barrier, but that won't worry Jamie Joseph's side, who move onwards and upwards.
Meanwhile, the Sharks will need to find a way to lift themselves, or risk their season spiralling even further out of control.
Highlanders – Tries: Gareth Evans, Waisake Naholo, Patrick Osborne, Mark Reddish, Aaron Smith, Brendon Edmonds, Elliot Dixon. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (5). Penalty: Sopoaga.
Sharks – Tries: Beast Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis. Conversion: Fred Zeilinga. Penalty: Zeilinga.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Brendon Edmonds, 18 Pingi Tala'apitaga, 19 Joe Latta, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Jason Emery.
Sharks – 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 S’bura Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Etienne Oosthuizen, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Lionel Cronjé, 23 Waylon Murray.
Photo: Rob Jefferies/Getty Images