Flying start helps Sharks down Blues

Flanker Keegan Daniel scored a 16-second try to give the Sharks a perfect start en route to a 22-17 triumph over the Auckland Blues in a Super 14 thriller on Saturday.

Daniel dotted down again as the home team took a 19-3 half-time advantage and then withstood fierce second-half pressure to go top of the southern hemisphere interprovincial championship standings.

Sharks, runners-up to compatriots the Bulls last year, have 17 points from four outings, one more than their New Zealand opponents, who scored 105 points in two previous matches on tour in South Africa.

Another New Zealand outfit, six-time champions Canterbury Crusaders, lie third with 14 points and can overtake the Sharks with a victory over the Western Force of Australia in Perth on Sunday.

Captain and lock Johann Muller claimed the other Sharks try, with scrumhalf Rory Kockott converting two and landing a penalty as he continues to deputise effectively for injured Springbok Ruan Pienaar.

Prolific-scoring flyhalf Nick Evans scored a try and kicked two conversions and a penalty, and replacement back Taniela Moa also touched down for the Blues, who suffered their fourth consecutive loss to the Durban franchise.

”The team were outstanding in the first half, only to fall asleep after the break. We must learn to put it together for 80 minutes,” warned Muller after a titanic struggle at a hot and humid Absa Stadium.

Blues skipper and lock Troy Flavell was gracious in defeat.

”The better team on the day won, but we are happy to go home with 11 points having set ourselves a target of one less,” said Flavell.

When the New Zealanders failed to control the ball at the kick-off, hooker Bismarck du Plessis passed to Daniel, and he dashed over under pressure from All Black wing Joe Rokocoko, making his 50th appearance in the competition.

Kockott failed to convert, but was on target after centre Bradley Barritt set up Muller for a try in the corner, and Daniel charged over having taken a quick tap penalty with the successful conversion opening a 19-point gap.

Evans reduced the arrears with a penalty and dived over between the posts just two minutes into the second half for a try that he converted as the Blues stamped their authority.

Kockott kicked a penalty 10 minutes from full-time, only for Moa to go over for a soft try, and Evans’s conversion left just five points between the weary teams as the sauna-like conditions took their toll.

Knock-ons deprived the Blues of two late chances to attack and the match ended when Sharks flyhalf Frederic Michalak ran into touch with the ball. — Sapa-AFP

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