The Waratahs held off a spirited second-half showing from the Sharks to record a 33-18 win in Sydney on Saturday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
The result sees the Sharks equal their worst ever run in the competition after falling to their sixth successive defeat. The scoreline was harsh on the KwaZulu-Natal side, who put in one of their better performances of the season, but were ultimately undone by inconsistency and poor officiating.
Rohan Hoffmann had a shocker with the whistle, and it was the Sharks who often found themselves on the wrong side of the referee's calls. His decisions baffled commentators and viewers alike and left the Sharks hopelessly frustrated.
However, they had no one to blame but themselves when they found themselves trailing 7-0 with just over a minute gone. A simple set-piece move exposed a gaping hole in their defence, which Michael Hooper exploited before sending Adam Ashley-Cooper over for the opening try.
The Sharks struggled to work their way into the match in the first half, as the Waratahs dealt comfortably with their rolling maul and dominated the collisions. The Sharks did manage to create opportunities from opposition errors, but Lwazi Mvovo knocked on a high ball with the tryline in sight and JP Pietersen was unable to reel in a loose Bernard Foley pass.
The did have the upper hand at the scrums, which allowed Frans Steyn to get them on the board with two penalties to leave them trailing 13-6 at the break. There was a farcical moment at the end of the first half as Hoffman told Sharks captain Marco Wentzel 'That's it, that's half-time.' Then said, 'Sorry, it's not' after Lionel Cronjé kicked the ball square into touch. It was a sign of things to come.
Credit must go to the Sharks, who kept their cool despite the decisions going against them. They showed some fight in the second half and scored a couple good tries through Odwa Ndungane and Steyn, the first of which came from an accurate cross-kick from Cronjé.
With the game finely balanced at 13-11 to the home side, Hoffman and TMO George Ayoub conspired to award the Waratahs a controversial try despite there being no clear evidence that Taqele Naiyaravoro had grounded the ball. Wentzel and the Sharks were growing increasingly frustrated with the officiating.
Steyn's try brought the Sharks back into the match, but two further penalties from the boot of Foley gave the Waratahs some breathing space. The Sharks were on the receiving end of another TMO decision, as S'bura Sithole's try was disallowed for a foot in touch.
The decision seemed to take the wind out of the Sharks' sails and, after Cronjé knocked the ball on in midfield, Foley swooped to race clear and seal the victory for the defending champions.
The Sharks will have one last chance to secure a victory on tour against the Reds in Brisbane next weekend, although their task has been made considerably tougher by Friday's result against the Rebels.
Waratahs – Tries: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley. Conversions: Bernard Foley (3). Penalties: Foley (4).
Sharks – Tries: Odwa Ndungane, Frans Steyn. Conversion: Steyn. Penalties: Steyn (2).
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Stephan Hoiles, 5 Dave Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Tala Gray, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro.
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Francois 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 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Etienne Oosthuizen, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 André Esterhuizen.
Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images