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Highlanders fling aside Sharks

allblacks.com

Sunday, March 20, 2005    allblacks.com    allblacks.com

Four converted tries in the first half paved the way for a victory that leaves the Sharks floundering at the bottom of the Super 12 standings with just a single point to their name.

Few would have picked the one-way traffic that unfolded in humid, windy conditions in Durban. Winger Matt Saunders got the Highlanders roadshow underway with a sweet pop-up pass to his first-five Cameron MacIntyre on the 50m line.

McIntyre and lock James Ryan both had touches before halfback Jimmy Cowan dotted down under the bar in the 2nd minute.

The first of fullback Ben Blair’s hat-trick arrived shortly afterwards on the back of another half-break, this one from centre Anthony Tuitavake. Then, as the woeful first-up tackling from the Sharks continued, Cowan and McIntyre were at it again blindside - quick recycling and superb support play gifting Blair number two.

Still inside the first quarter of the match, Seilala Mapusua secured the bonus point try. Blair’s conversion made it four from four.

Some fractured rugby played itself out in the remainder of the first 40, but the sombre look on the 20,000 faces inside ABSA stadium at the break said it all.

Halftime: 28-0 the Highlanders.

Sloppy play compounded by a failure to find touch saw the visitors put themselves under pressure immediately after the break. Fired up and needing to score first, Sharks lock Charl van Rensburg barrelled over between the sticks.

The response from the Highlanders was instant... helped again by defensive holes you could drive a bus (and squeeze a bus driver) through. Yet Blair preferred a more indirect route, rounding his opposite Jacques Schutte from 35m out for the team’s fifth try.

He added the conversion and a penalty, but the match continued to lose its shape. At one stage, both Captain Anton Oliver and fellow front-rower Carl Hayman even see fit to put boot to ball.

Poor ball retention ensured the Sharks cough up turnovers instead of take their opportunities. Conversely, the Highlanders seemed content to sit on the ones they had already taken.

No sign of the late comeback that gave the Hurricanes such a fright in Round Three. Instead, the industrious Ryan crosses for his side’s sixth try.

While the Sharks seventh consecutive Super 12 loss leaves coaches Kevin Putt and Balie Swart reaching for the crisis button, the Highlanders now travel to Bloemfontein to meet the Cats, outclawed 34-29 several hours earlier by the Brumbies.

Final score: 43-7 the Highlanders.

Scorers

Highlanders. Tries: Jimmy Cowan, Mapusua, James Ryan, Ben Blair (3). Conversions: Blair (5). Penalties: Blair.

Sharks. Tries: Charl van Rensburg. Conversions: Herkie Kruger.

Read the matches the matter. First on allblacks.com