Stefan Ungerer bagged a brace as the Sharks rounded off their Australasian tour with a 21-14 win over the Reds in Brisbane. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
The Sharks went into Friday's match with history hanging over their heads. No Sharks side had failed to notch up a victory on an Australasian tour and none had suffered seven consecutive defeats. They managed to avoid that dubious distinction with a rugged performance in Brisbane.
The Sharks needed to win, and win they did. Their desperation played against them at times, but their senior players stood up at crucial times to steady the ship and get them across the line.
To call the performance impressive, or even good, might be an overstatement. But they did enough against a Reds side who last week blew the Rebels away at the same venue.
Barring one moment of weakness from Lionel Cronjé in the buildup to Chris Kuridrani's first-half try, the Sharks defence showed great improvement from the rabble that has been on display for much of the season. Their scrum for the most part enjoyed the upper-hand, while Ungerer – one of the few positives to come out of this tour – put in a dynamic display in the No 9 jersey.
However, it was the performance of former captain Bismarck du Plessis that deserves the highest praise. The Springbok hooker has come in for criticism for his overly physical approach this season, but when he works on the right side of the law, he remains one of the best around.
He was immense at the breakdown, winning a number of turnovers at crucial stages to relieve the pressure on the Sharks defence. Alongside the consistently impressive Marcell Coetzee, he robbed the Reds of any continuity on attack, helping to nullify the threat of their dangerous outside backs.
The Sharks built up a first-half lead through a well-taken Ungerer try and a couple of long-range penalties from the boot of Frans Steyn. The burly centre seems to be finding some form towards the tail-end of the season, however there was concern after he was forced off the field midway through the second half.
The Reds were seeing plenty of the ball, but it was the visitors who capitalised on their opportunities to lead 16-7 at the break. The second half followed a similar pattern, with the Sharks defending resolutely and using the boot of Cronjé and Ungerer to push the Reds back.
Samu Kerevi would eventually get across the whitewash for the hosts, but a calamitous clearing kick from James O'Connor found its way into the hands of Ungerer, who crossed for the easiest of tries to restore the Sharks buffer.
From there it was left to the forwards to close the game out and they duly obliged. It may not have been a spectacle, but the Sharks will take the win any which way it comes.
Reds – Tries: Chris Kuridrani, Samu Kerevi. Conversions: James O'Connor (2).
Sharks – Tries: Stefan Ungerer (2). Conversion: Frans Steyn. Penalties: Frans Steyn (3)
Reds – 15 James O'Connor, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Karmichael Hunt, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Chris Kuridrani, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (c).
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Pettowa Paraka, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Ed O'Donoghue, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Ben Tapuai.
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel (c), 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Etienne Oosthuizen, 21 Conrad Hoffman, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 André Esterhuizen.
Photo: Patrick Hamilton/AFP Photo