Sharks draw Reds blood

The Sharks got their 2007 Super 14 campaign back on track with a convincing, and bonus-point clinching, 59-16 victory over the hapless Reds in Brisbane on Saturday evening.

The South Africans – the early pace-setters in this competition after winning six games on the trot – bounced back from two successive losses to Australian opposition with a nine-tries-to-one demolition of a struggling Reds team – a side they were expected to beat, but then again, you never know in the Super 14.

But the Sharks started well enough in Brisbane, making their intentions clear early on. They looked hungry from the kick-off, whilst the Reds coughed up possession early on, before a brain explosion from league convert Clinton Schifcofske gifted the Sharks a five-metre scrum. The first scrum collapsed a metre short of the Reds’ line. The second scrum led to a try by veteran forward AJ Venter, with scrum-half Ruan Pienaar converting for a 7-0 lead.

The Reds looked even more disinterested from the re-start, but the Sharks let their hosts back into the match through a series of 50-50 passes and failure to take their chances on attack. Youthful exuberance could be the reason for this, but either way the Reds took their chances, as first Schifcofske knocked over a penalty, before Reds skipper John Roe charged through a gap – from a well-timed Quade Cooper pass – and over the goalline for a score against the run of play. Schifcofske converted and suddenly the Reds led 10-7.

That, however, was to be the last time the lead changed hands as the young Sharks team began to look after the ball a bit better. One such moment led to a well-taken try by Springbok JP Pietersen just two minutes later, the youngster stepping off his wing and finishing strongly after being put into space by Odwa Ndungane, who burst ahead from a standing start just on the Reds’ 22. The build-up to Pietersen’s try saw Bobby Skinstad pluck the ball out of the air from a Francois Steyn high bomb, but the kick from Steyn was made possible by Andrew Walker’s missed touch-finder from a penalty.

Pienaar missed the conversion, but the visitors’ 12-10 lead was extended on the stroke of half-time when the impressive Jacques Botes rumbled over from a line-out, Steyn once again putting his team on the attack with a magnificent touch-finder from deep inside his own half. The Sharks won a penalty in the Reds 22, they kicked to touch and rumbled over from the line-out, a movement right out of the Leicester Tigers coaching manual when Neil Back was in his pomp.

Sharks No.9 Pienaar missed his second conversion of the night, but at 17-10 up at the break, the visitors returned from the changing-rooms looking to finish off their opponents, and finish them they did.

The second half started rather slowly, but the Sharks nailed down their four-try bonus point – only their second one of the season – just minutes into the second period. It seemed rather pedastrian as the Sharks moved into the Reds 22, but when Pietersen took a pass from No.10 Butch James, he bounced off his wing, through Schifcofske’s attempted tackle, before taking three defenders with him as he planted the ball on the whitewash. Pienaar converted and suddenly they were ahead by 24-10.

Schifcofske tried his level best to chip away at that 14-point lead, slotting two penalties in the 43rd and 53rd minutes – but the Sharks quickly cancelled out those six points when inside centre Bradley Barritt picked up his team’s fifth try. Fly-half James put an explosive Waylon Murray into the gap, before Ndungane again provided the try-scoring pass, Barritt juggling the ball before dotting it down and Pienaar adding the extras again.

At 31-16 Sharks coach Dick Muir would have been a very happy man, especially after their losses to the Brumbies and the Force, but his young charges stepped up a gear in the final quarter, racking up another four fantastic tries, despite a host of chan

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