DURBAN – There was no faulting the Sharks for effort in their 30-17 defeat to the Hurricanes on Saturday.
But the grim reality of their fifth home defeat in eight games played at Jonsson Kings Park means their dream of winning the SA Conference is almost certainly dead, and should they make the playoffs, they will be away from Durban.
The Sharks complete their round-robin matches with very tough away assignments to the Jaguares and the Stormers, so in the context of a congested Conference, Saturday’s home defeat to John Plumtree’s visitors was a calamity.
It was game where the Sharks’ expected domination upfront did not materialise until late in the game.
But what was a revelation was the ease with which they found space out wide for their speedy back-three, often because of fine reading of the game by flyhalf Curwin Bosch and outside centre Lukhanyo Am, who had an exceptional game.
What was emphasised once more is that when the opposition match the Sharks’ physicality in the forwards, they get frustrated and they struggle.
In the first half especially, the Hurricanes forwards fronted up, and the result was a 20-3 lead for them after 20 minutes.
But well-taken tries either side of halftime closed the gap to just three points at 20-17, and what had seemed to be a hiding in prospect was suddenly a nail-biter, at least until the final 15 minutes.
That is when the Hurricanes managed to break a long Sharks siege in their half through a Ben Lam burst down the middle from 22 to 22, and the Canes promptly scored 10 points.
The Sharks were now chasing the game, and it was once more perplexing that they played the final quarter with their two X-factor players, Bosch and Aphele Fassi, removed from the heat of the action.
Bosch was relegated to fullback, and the unfortunate Fassi taken off the field.
The Hurricanes’ early burst of points came from tries by Jordie Barrett, who had been set up by his brother jinking through a half gap on the Sharks’ 22, and by the barn-storming centre Ngani Laumape.
The latter made plenty of yardage most times he got the ball, and it was a blow for the visitors when he left the field with a shoulder injury in the second half.
Sharks v Hurricanes | Super Rugby 2019 Rd 16 Highlights— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) June 1, 2019
The @Hurricanesrugby have put a serious dint in the @TheSharksZA finals hopes with a 30-17 win in Durban.#SuperRugby #SHAvHUR pic.twitter.com/mfVjyudwzC
The Sharks had emptied the tank in their previous four games, and there was a concern that they were due a dip in intensity, but that did not happen.
Their try two minutes before halftime was timeous, and it went to Fassi after Am had found space for him out wide following strong driving play by the Du Preez twins, both of whom produced excellent performances.
And after the break, it became a three-point game when Juan Schoeman, who was on for injured Mzamo Majola, drove powerfully over.
But then came a disjointed final quarter for the Sharks, which wasn’t helped by the curious substitutions.
Sharks 17 – Tries: Aphelele Fassi, Juan Schoeman. Conversions: Curwin Bosch (2). Penalty: Bosch (1).
Hurricanes 30 – Tries: Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (3). Penalties: Barrett (3).@MikeGreenaway67