Sharks extend lead at the top with Blues victory

The Sharks extended their winning streak over the Blues to ten consecutive matches when they beat the Aucklanders 23-29 at North Harbour Stadium in Albany.

The result provisionally moves the Sharks nine points clear at the top of the Super Rugby standing and makes the Sharks the first South African Super Rugby team to go unbeaten in New Zealand.

The result almost certainly ends the Blues play off hopes as they are last in the New Zealand Conference and are 16 points behind the tournament leading Sharks.

Flyhalf Francois Steyn kicked 16 points, contributed to a controversial second-half
try, and spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin while ensuring the Sharks won for the
third time in four matches on their tour to Australia and New Zealand, and maintained
their season-long reign atop the tournament ladder.

The Sharks return to South Africa for four matches in which they can cement
first place while the Blues, anchored in 10th place before this match, are left
to contemplate a season which again has fallen short of the promise of their
star-studded roster.

Captain Bismarck du Plessis scored a first-half try for the Sharks, who led
throughout the match, though they were twice reduced to 14 men by yellow cards
and played a total of 20 minutes with a man down.

In that respect, the match was similar to their 30-25 win over the Crusaders
in Christchurch last weekend when they played for 64 minutes with 14 men and
for 10 minutes with 13 but still posted their first win in Christchurch.

The Sharks, under World Cup-winning Springboks coach Jake White, appear to
have developed a pattern and gameplan so economical, settled, and precise that
it can be sustained even when they are short-handed.

Some observers of Super Rugby are concerned a tournament win by the Sharks
would be a victory for a cynical brand of rugby – unsightly for spectators.

The two yellow cards incurred by the Durban-based side on Friday further emphasized
the cynical nature of their game – they slow play and consistently impede opposition
ball – but there was still massive admiration for the manner in which they managed
to win while reduced to 14 men for a quarter of the match.

The Sharks extended to 10 matches their winning streak over the Blues but,
most importantly, return to South Africa with a 3-1 record on tour which ensured
they retained first place through the hardest part of their season.

“To be honest we wanted to win four out of four, I’d be lying if I didn’t
say we wanted to win four out of four,”said Du Plessis.

“But three out of four on a hard trip, we’re very happy with that.

“What we wanted to do was really put them under pressure at scrum time
and lineouts, and we got that in the first half. Second half we were a wee bit
under the pump.”

Du Plessis scored his 15th Super Rugby try in the 15th minute of the first
half, and scrumhalf Cobus Reinach touched down in the 15th minute of the second,
reproducing the length-of-the-field, kick-and-chase try that he scored early
in the second half of the match against Crusaders.

His try on Friday was equally influential in tipping the match in the Sharks’
favor. But it came from obvious offside play and a knock-on by Steyn, which
went unobserved by the referee, his assistants or the television match official.

The second of Auckland’s tries, to winger Tevita Li, also came from a blatant
forward pass which was similarly undetected by the officials, and enlarged concern
about the drop in refereeing standards this season.

The Sharks lost prop Jannie du Plessis to a yellow card in the 42nd, and the
Blues immediately capitalized with a try to their captain, Luke Braid.

Steyn was yellow-carded in the 61st and the Blues again scored, through Li,

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