The Sharks lost their discipline and unbeaten Super 14 rugby record as the tenacious ACT Brumbies stormed home for a dramatic 27-21 victory on Saturday.
Last year’s beaten finalists looked set to stay unconquered after nine matches with a composed opening half to lead 18-7 at half-time, but the Brumbies steamed home in the second term stringing together 20 unanswered points.
The Durban-based team grabbed a losing bonus point with replacement Ruan Pienaar’s 77th-minute penalty goal to trail tournament leaders Canterbury Crusaders by six points after the Crusaders’ shock 18-5 loss to the Waikato Chiefs on Friday.
The Sharks self-destructed through their ill-discipline, with number eight Ryan Kankowski and centre Francois Steyn leaving their team a man down with yellow cards at vital stages of the second half.
It was a breakdown in discipline that cost the leading South African title chasers dearly as Wallaby outside back Adam Ashley-Cooper grabbed two tries and number eight Julian Salvi another to lift the Brumbies to victory.
”In the second half our discipline was defective and we gave away too many penalties and free kicks and you can’t play with 14 men on the field,” fumed skipper Johann Muller.
It was a golden opportunity thrown away by the Sharks to press on for a home play-off next month and they are now facing a crucial match with the third-placed Waratahs in Sydney next Saturday.
The Sharks have not beaten the two-time champion Brumbies in 10 years in Canberra and it was the one that got away from them as they crumbled under the pressure exerted by the home side, missing Wallaby skipper Stirling Mortlock.
The Durban team looked impressive in the first half, displaying polished support play, to lead 13-0 after Kankowski’s 34th-minute try.
Ashley-Cooper pulled it back to 13-7 with a 40m intercept try off a wayward Steyn pass, but the precocious Springbok youngster made amends when he backed up a Kankowski line-break to score right on half-time.
The Brumbies, dominating territory and possession, put the Sharks under immense pressure in the second half, recycling the ball in multi-phases and getting their reward when Salvi plunged over after 19 phases and with the Sharks minus the sin-binned Kankowski.
Mark Gerrard kicked the Brumbies to within a point, 18-17, midway through the half before Steyn was banished to the sin bin in the 67th minute, enabling Gerrard to kick the home side in front for the first time.
There was no way back for the Sharks when Ashley-Cooper finished off an overlap in Steyn’s absence to score out wide for Gerrard to convert from the sideline for a nine-point lead.
The Sharks became more desperate to claw back the deficit and got a bonus point out of the wreckage with Pienaar’s penalty kick.
The gutsy victory revives the Brumbies’ play-off hopes and they are parked just outside the top four and facing another home match against the lowly Golden Lions next Friday. — AFP