Sharks energy lowers Highlanders

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Lynn McConnell     06 May 2018     Getty Images

That ended the Highlanders' record of five consecutive wins in South Africa but leaves them in fifth place on the ladder after the Chiefs' loss to the Jaguares on Friday.

Just as they showed in New Zealand when beating the Blues and taking the Hurricanes to injury time before losing, the Sharks showed what an effective side they can be when on their game.

For once the Highlanders had close to parity in the possession stakes with 47 percent but the unrelenting nature of the Sharks' game plan saw them make 13 clean breaks to four by the Highlanders while carrying for 540m compared to 320m.

Halfback Cameron Wright launched a kick into the box and in the contest to field the ball between first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga and lock Ruan Botha there were was only ever going to be one winner. Botha took the ball at speed raced into the 22m area and passed inside to supporting hooker Akker van der Merwe who scored after 37 seconds.

Maintaining their attacking bent, the Sharks responded to a Highlanders defensive scrum clearance by running the ball back at them and in a regulation back movement a perfectly-timed pass from first five-eighths Robert du Preez gave wing Makazole Mapimpi the room to move in then out on Sopoaga to score in the corner after six minutes.

Measuring their response, the Highlanders slowed the pace of the game, thankful that more chances to score were lost due to dropped balls by Jean-Luc du Preez after a lineout drive and by centre Andre Esterhuizen when attempting to crash through wing Waisake Naholo.

Employing a driving maul, the Highlanders worked the ball into position and for once things didn't go the Sharks' way as flanker Dillon Hunt crossed in the26th minute.

However, the Highlanders were more on the defensive as a result of well-placed kicks and spent much of the rest of the first half trying to keep the Sharks out. A du Preez penalty goal made the halftime score 17-7.

Five minutes into the second half an attack down the left flank saw centre Lukhanyo Am stretch the defence before passing inside to No.8 Dan du Preez for the try.

The Highlanders were unable to make any scoring headway in the in the 62nd minute Robert du Preez used a grubber kick to the in-goal to get the ball beyond the defence and it was wing Sibusiso Nkosi who grounded the ball just short of the dead ball line.

Five minutes later fullback Curwin Bosch took a Highlanders kick and put his great speed to use to scythe through and stretch the defence before in-passing to Robert du Preez for the Sharks fifth and final try.

Finally, the Highlanders had reward after replacement Matt Faddes' quick lineout throw led to fullback Ben Smith showing that anything Bosch could do, he could also, as he broke up the middle of the park before flinging the ball wide to the right where second five-eighths Tei Walden took the ball to score in the corner.

Scorers: Sharks 38 (Armand van der Merwe, Makazole Mapimpi, Daniel du Preez, Sibusiso Nkosi, Robert du Preez tries; Robert du Preez 5 con, pen) Highlanders 12 (Dillon Hunt, Teihorangi Walden tries; Lima Sopoaga con). HT: 17-7.