JON CARDINELLI watched Pat Lambie score all of the Sharks’ points in a scrappy but vital 28-16 win against the Highlanders.
The Sharks scored 13 unanswered points in the period between the 50th and 60th minute. It was during this spell where the match was won, and it was ultimately the cool goal-kicking of Lambie that allowed the hosts to edge clear of a determined but woefully inaccurate Highlanders side.
In difficult kicking conditions, Lambie slotted seven penalties and a conversion. It was a flawless goal-kicking performance and it had to be, as the Highlanders threatened to seize the initiative at various intervals. Had Lambie not converted every opportunity on offer, the Sharks may been made to pay for their inconsistency for the umpteenth time this season.
There was plenty of intent during the early stages, as the Sharks managed to boss the collisions. It was also clear that the Sharks had come into this contest with a more structured game plan in mind. They attempted to drive the Highlanders back into their own territory, and it worked to a degree.
The tactic is sound in theory, but a team needs to execute efficiently and consistently to obtain the desired results. The Sharks overplayed the kicking ploy, and at times their halfbacks were guilty of booting possession away aimlessly. The kick-chase wasn’t up to standard either, and this is something they will need to address if they hope to gain full value from these tactics.
The hosts benefited from a sloppy Highlanders performance in the first half. Lambie punished the visitors for their transgressions at the breakdown, and the Sharks were also fortunate not to concede more points at the other end, as flyhalf Mike Delany missed two relatively simple penalty attempts.
There was an almighty scrap at the breakdown, with both teams guilty of indiscipline early on. The Highlanders recovered after their early lapses, and managed to control the ball better as the first half progressed. It was all the Sharks could do to spoil, and eventually Jacques Botes was yellow-carded after a series of Sharks breakdown infringements.
The visitors failed to hammer home the advantage. They scored just three points while Botes was off the field, and while credit should go to a much improved Sharks defence, the Highlanders attack was just too lateral to be effective.
They gained some reward from playing more direct rugby at the start of the second half, depleting the Sharks’ defensive line before eventually crashing over for a try. It was at this point where the momentum was with the Highlanders, and a conversion by Delany took them to a 16-15 lead.
The Sharks were guilty of a spate of handling errors during this period, the type of frustrating mistakes that have become something of a trademark in 2012. But for all their failings, they maintained their composure, and Lambie booted a difficult penalty to regain the lead.
This proved to be the boost they needed, as from that point onward, they played with far more control and belief.
Charl McLeod fielded a high ball in his own half, and avoided two would-be Highlanders defenders. This proved to be the catalyst for a promising counter-attack, and Keegan Daniel eventually found himself with ball in hand just outside the Highlanders 22.
Daniel looked to have butchered a try-scoring opportunity when he chipped the ball into space, but Hosea Gear obliged with an untimely error and the ball spilled loose behind the Highlanders tryline. Lambie, who had followed in support, dotted the ball down and then kicked the conversion to make the Gear gaffe a seven-point mistake.
The weather turned nasty in the final quarter, but the Sharks held out to not only secure the win, but also deny the Highlanders a losing bonus point.
The result may not have propelled the Sharks into the top six, but their strong finish means that they are now only three log points shy of the Highlanders, who are currently fifth in the overall standings.