Sharks end drought against Waratahs

The Sharks recorded their first win over the Waratahs in six years when they beat them 22-9 in another error-riddled Super 14 match in Durban on Friday.


The Sharks scored the only try of the match, through fly-half Butch James, while Percy Montgomery and Francois Steyn sealed the victory with their boots.


Montgomery slotted the conversion of James’s try and kicked three penalties, while Steyn added a penalty and a sweetly-struck drop-goal – all while the Waratahs’ goal-kicker, Peter Hewat, managed to kick just three of his seven penalty attempts at goal.


In what was another dour Super rugby outing, the Sharks demonstrated a professionalism in the midst of adverse form, staying the course in a defensively-driven defeat of the Waratahs.


In a match that did not even break into fits and starts the Sharks can take comfort from both the four log points bagged, as well as the fact that they won convincingly despite never gaining any rhythm and having to defend for large parts of the second half in particular.


The match started slowly, with both teams feeling out their opponent. However, neither side seemed ever to progress past that stage, and eventually the clash took on the hallmarks of a trials game – tight yet disorganised.


Francois Steyn had an average night, but his boot saw the Sharks take an early lead as he landed a 50 metre penalty from near the touchline, and then followed it with that sweetly-struck drop-goal minutes later.


The play perambulated from one side to the next, with random penalties being conceded unforced. Peter Hewat had a disastrous night with the boot. He missed regulation kicks that he would have completed on the training ground with his eyes closed.


The Sharks led 9-6 at the break, and were edging out the ‘Tahs in a second half which saw them up with another two penalties to only one reply by Hewat.


The Waratahs gained more attacking impetus with the introduction of teenager pivot Kurtley Beale, but the Sharks showed their defensive edge with either a big hit from Butch James or turnovers by Johann Muller or Albert van den Berg coming at crucial times. Muller in particular was very influential at the lineout.


At one stage it appeared the Waratahs would close the deal as they assaulted the Sharks tryline – at a time when the Sharks did not look like being capable of scoring.


But the Sharks finally turned the screw when a turnover led to a Sam Harris handling error on the halfway line, which saw scrum-half Rory Kockott (a late run-on replacement for Ruan Pienaar who did not recover in time from injury) break down the left and then Montgomery act as a link sending Waylon Murray on a run to within inches from the tryline in the corner.


The ball went wide, Brad Barritt sucked in an extra defender and Butch James hit the gap for the clincher.


In all honesty, the match was no spectacle.


The scrums were tedious; the handling was poor. But the Sharks will be satisfied that they performed at the moments when it counted, and were able to defeat a hungry Waratahs side whom they have not beaten for six years.


Concerns for both sides will be their continuity, whilst John Smit’s gaping absence in form can only be a worry for Dick Muir.


Kurtley Beale’s form will probably see him earn a start next week, while the Waratahs will take heart from the fact that if their ball retention had been better, they would certainly have beaten the side who are emerging as tournament favourites in their backyard.


The Sharks, nevertheless, are on course to live up to their pre-season promise, and would particularly take heart from their ability to disrupt opponents’ set pieces, as well as their strength at the breakdown. Their attack, however, needs serious inspection.


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