RYAN VREDE reports on a compelling 34-30 victory for the Waratahs over the Sharks.
The Tahs probably weren’t the better side on the balance of play. But they needed and wanted this more. They never relented at any stage, despite the Sharks mounting considerable pressure on them. Their mettle was tested and they responded in emphatic manner to break a losing streak that threatened to compromise their campaign.
The Sharks will lament soft moments that kept the Tahs in the contest. They had their hosts on the ropes at various times, but couldn’t land the knock-out punch.
They seem to have made strides in remedying their inconsistent attacking play. They looked good when playing through phases, especially when their primary strike runners in the pack get their hands on the ball. Those heavies were dominant in the opening quarter and allowed the Sharks to deplete the Tahs’ defence and hurt them in the wide channels.
They went ahead in this manner three minutes into the contest, with a slick interchange of passes on the left wing culminating in Lwazi Mvovo sprinting in for a try. Pat Lambie added the extras then kicked a conversion to give his side a 10-point lead.
The Tahs looked largely impotent when they sought to play expansively. Credit to the Sharks, who withdrew men from their breakdown contest, fanned in defence and isolated ball carriers, forcing turnovers.
The Tahs’ lateral shuffling posed little threat and they should have been more direct than they were. Indeed their only first half try came after an erosive multi-phase move that finished with scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin sniping around a poorly guarded ruck fringe to score.
McKibbin kicked the conversion to go with an earlier penalty but the Sharks hit back immediately, mauling powerfully, Keegan Daniel crossing the whitewash. The Tahs spurned a chance to go ahead, Adam Ashley-Cooper knocking on with the tryline beckoning, and they had to be content with another McKibbin penalty that left them trailing 17-13 at the break.
The Sharks looked vastly superior and threatened to score every time they were able to get continuity in their play. The Tahs also had no rebuttal to their rolling maul, and Bismarck du Plessis emerged from one 7m from the tryline and simply swatted away the tackle attempts of two defenders to score. Du Plessis started the season slowly but he has gradually found his stride and is showing glimpses of the form that made him the world’s best hooker in 2011.
Lambie landed the conversion but the Tahs refused to succumb, responding with two converted tries in seven minutes to take the lead for the first time. For all their attacking advances the Sharks continue to undermine their cause by falling into a slumber at crucial times.
Lambie levelled the scores with 18 minutes play but you sensed the Sharks, with the better, more experienced bench, would edge this one. The replacements galvanised the visitors, upping their tempo and forcing a series of breakdown infringements, one of which Lambie banked to edge his side ahead with nine minutes to play.
But the Tahs’ deep desperation drove them on and Tom Kingston finished a move that’s birth can be traced back to their own 22m. Berrick Barnes kicked the conversion that required the Sharks to score a try for the win. It wasn’t to be and the Tahs’ players’ celebrations at the final whistle indicated just how much the victory meant to them.