The Sharks lost their fifth successive match as they went down 24-22 to the Brumbies in Canberra.
The visitors will again rue their poor performance, as just like last week against the Waratahs the match was there for the taking. But once more they have themselves to blame, and if there campaign wasn’t over before this encounter, it has finally been decided as they now have no chance of reaching the play-offs barring an unlikely miracle.
The Sharks had the breeze at their backs in the opening half and raced out to a 6-0 lead after 16 minutes thanks to a couple of Andy Goode penalties. They had the better of the opening exchanges, but they failed to take their chances when opportunities presented themselves.
The Brumbies came into the match with only one loss, but they – just like the Sharks – lacked the confidence to gain any continuity. Both sides made numerous basic mistakes, and after the opening quarter John Plumtree would have been a disappointed man as dropped balls and poor passes littered the visitors’ performance.
The Brumbies awoke from their slumber midway through the half, two Matt Giteau penalties in quick succession drawing them level at 6-6.
Both sides adopted a similar plan as they opted to take the ball through the phases and play close to the rucks as the defenders failed to align quickly around the breakdowns. The Brumbies initially failed to get their famed phase-play game going, but on the half hour mark they struck.
Prop Ben Alexander crashed over after numerous phases as the hosts increased the pace of the match, but the Sharks dominated the final 10 minutes of the half.
Ruan Pienaar sniped around a ruck unopposed to draw the Sharks level, and then another Goode penalty as the half-time hooter sounded handed the Sharks a 16-13 lead at the break.
It was the first time the Sharks have led at half-time this year, and the second stanza was all about closing out the game.
They didn’t start well however, their scrum again the weaklink as the Brumbies dominated territory throughout final 40 minutes. The Sharks and Springbok front-row were again marched back at the set-piece on their 5m line, and from the ensuing ruck, Alexander again drove over around the fringes to secure his brace.
The visitors wisely chose to play for territory, with Goode and Pienaar prominent. Just like in the first half, they had their chances in the Brumbies’ 22 but it was the same old problem as they struggled with their attack, which was too lateral and static.
Goode and Giteau traded penalties as the Sharks held a one-point lead heading into the final quarter, but with nine minutes remaining, the Wallaby pivot edged over the match-winner.
The Sharks now face the Highlanders and the Dunedin fixture is their best chance of a win on the tour from hell.
By Grant Ball