Durban – Sharks director of rugby Jake White hailed the late fightback by his side after they twice came from behind in the second half to see off the stubborn Highlanders in their Super Rugby play-off qualifier in Durban on Saturday.
The Sharks trailed by seven points after 48 minutes and then by two points with 16 minutes to play, before eventually running out 31-27 victors from a pulsating clash at Kings Park.
White described their performance in the closing 20 minutes, which coincided with the arrival of star flyhalf Patrick Lambie following a near four-month injury lay-off, as “some of the best rugby we played all season”.
“I'm very proud of the way they came back,” White said afterwards.
“I thought the last 20 minutes we played really well.
“It was some of our best rugby in terms of linking our forwards and backs.”
The first fightback came with two tries in three minutes by Bismarck du Plessis and Tonderai Chavhanga, in the 53rd and 56th minutes, after the Sharks were stunned before the break by scores from the stunning Malakai Fekitoa and Kane Hames.
That enabled the Otago side to lead 17-14 at the break.
Earlier, Marcell Coetzee also scored for the Sharks and Frans Steyn kicked 16 points in another strong display at flyhalf, while the Highlanders led later on via a try from Phil Burleigh.
“I think when you get a win like you did last week with 34 points and then 31 against the Highlanders, it's a great way to take momentum into the last couple of rounds,” White said.
“Ideally you want a comfortable win, but when you get to this stage of the competition, it's highly unlikely. It's a great lesson for all the boys here to understand just how tough this knockout stage is.
“The Highlanders are a quality team, probably the best team in the competition to counterattack from broken play.
White also hailed replacement halfback pairing of Lambie and Charl McLeod.
“As a whole, the bench definitely helped us.
“There's no doubt when we get Charl and Pat, senior players that have been there and they understand the pressures.
“Frans himself said to me after the game, when they walked on, he just got a sense of calmness from both of them being around.”
Victory, though, did come at a cost as lock Anton Bresler was ruled out of the semi-final meeting with the Crusaders in Christchurch next week with a rib injury.
However, fellow second-rower Stephan Lewies, a late withdrawal due to a knee complaint, was likely to be fit.
“I don't want to jump the gun there, but I know, although we'll just have to have a look and see,” White added on Bresler.
“At this point Willem has played there, Lewies will be back, Deysel was good in this game, so I think we'll be okay.” – Sapa