Highlanders push Sharks close

Photosport     18 Feb 2007     Photosport

The Highlanders were almost over from a lineout drive in the last movement of the match but they were penalised at the ensuing maul and the Sharks were able to clear for touch to clinch their third consecutive win.

It was an improved display from the Highlanders, who have one win and six points from their three away games.

Flanker Alando Soakai was the outstanding player for the Highlanders while Craig Newby and Hoani MacDonald also excelled in a committed pack. Fullback James Wilson had an impressive debut and Charlie Hore played solidly in his first start.

The Highlanders were again prone to inaccuracy on attack but their defence was excellent.

There were three changes to the Highlanders' team originally announced, Wilson, Soakai and lock Filipo Levi replacing Craig Clare, captain Josh Blackie and James Ryan. Craig Newby took over the captaincy in Blackie’s absence.

The Sharks swarmed to attack and opened the scoring after six minutes with a fine try by veteran fullback Percy Montgomery. He ran at an angle on the short side from a set scrum and wrong-footed Greg Zampach and Jimmy Cowan to score in the corner. He converted with a splendid kick and the Sharks led 7-0.

The early scrums were a shambles and, when the Highlanders were penalised after yet another re-set, Montgomery goaled from 40 metres on the angle to extend the lead to 10-0.

The Highlanders made one of their excursions into Sharks' territory after 20 minutes but Charlie Hore was to the right with a penalty attempt from 42 metres.

But Hore made no mistake from 22 metres eight minutes later after the Highlanders strung together some good phases in their first genuine attack.

The Sharks created several chances, but failed to finish. One was when wing Waylon Murray burst straight up the middle, No 8 Ryan Kankowski was in support but he was tackled and the movement died.

Four minutes before halftime Francois Steyn was penalised for pushing Lucky Mulipola without the ball and Hore goaled from 40 metres to trim the deficit to 6-10.

The Sharks had the chance to increase their lead but, from almost halfway, Steyn's kick cannoned into the upright and bounced away.

The Sharks led 10-6 at halftime but they would have been disappointed not to have been ahead by more, little errors causing them to bomb several opportunities. The Highlanders came into the game more in the second quarter and they would have felt at the break they had a chance of victory.

The Sharks gained early territorial advantage in the second spell and Montgomery kicked a penalty from 22 metres to extend their lead to 13-6.

But the Highlanders hit straight back when Hore goaled an easy penalty from 22 metres to trim the deficit to 9-13.

Neither side was able to seize the initiative in the third quarter but, when Blackie came on for Levi in a reshuffled pack after 18 minutes, the Highlanders had fresh legs and fresh hope.

Montgomery kicked his fourth penalty 19 minutes from the to restore the Sharks' seven-point lead as both teams went to the bench to inject new energy.

Blackie featured twice as the Highlanders drove towards the Sharks' line but lock Kane Thompson was penalised in the ruck.

Then Hore put replacement midfelder Jason Kawau into space and he grounded the ball over the line, only to be adjudged by the television match official to have struck the corner flag first.

There was a big roar 10 minutes from the end when former Springbok captain Bobby Skinstad took the field for the first time in his return to top rugby.

Five minutes from the end the Sharks scored their second beyond doubt when they counter-attacked from a kick by Wilson. Montgomery ran it back, Ruan Pienaar cut through the middle and Montgomery finished off under the posts. He converted to make it 23-9.

But, almost before the Sharks' fans had time to celebrate, Hore put Kawau over under the posts and Hore's conversion made it 23-16 with four minutes to play.

Scorers: Sharkes 23 (Percy Montgomery two tries; 2 con, 3 pen) Highlanders 22 (Jason Kawau try; Charlie Hore con, 3 pen). HT: 10-6