A single miss in an otherwise top-class kicking display by Pat Lambie cost the Sharks victory as they went down 26-28 to the Reds in their opening SuperRugby match in Brisbane on Friday.
Lambie missed a penalty three minutes from full-time that would have snatched a fortuitous victory, given that a Reds team that played with 14 men for 20 minutes outscored them by four tries to two.
With Lambie earlier kicking six-from-six, the Sharks enjoyed a 26-18 lead with 16 minutes remaining, but a poor finish to the game saw them concede two tries.
The Sharks made a great start with a try in the second minute when the Reds were throwing passes around and flyhalf Quade Cooper dropped the ball, outside centre Lukhanyo Am pounced and a quick interchange with wing Kobus van Wyk then put flank Jean-Luc du Preez away to storm over the tryline.
Lambie’s conversion made it 7-0, but the Sharks were unable to threaten the Reds’ tryline again in the first half, largely because they had to make do with a tiny proportion of possession, their failure to hang on to the ball for long periods meaning they had to do most of the defending.
Cooper and Lambie traded two penalties each to make the score 13-6 at the half-hour, but Van Wyk then turned village idiot and tried to take a quick lineout inside his own 22, an isolated Curwin Bosch conceding a scrum. The Reds forwards drove strongly and eighthman Scott Higginbotham dotted down through the pile of bodies for the home side’s opening try, Cooper’s conversion levelling the scores at 13-13.
Lambie snuck a penalty in the last-minute of the first half, thanks to lock Ruan Botha twice putting great pressure on Reds scrumhalf Nick Frisby, for the Sharks to lead 16-13 at the break, and the visitors showed hitherto unseen control in the opening exchanges of the second half, dominating territory and hanging on to the ball much better.
Lambie succeeded with a 43rd-minute penalty to stretch the lead to 19-13, but Queensland centre Samu Kerevi struck back with the first of his two tries six minutes later.
Running with great power and awareness, he burst through a gap between scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and Am, to score after the Reds chose a scrum under the shadow of the poles instead of a kick at goal. Cooper failed with an easy conversion attempt, which allowed the Sharks to hang on to a slender one-point lead.
With referee Nick Briant suddenly remembering that there is no tolerance for neck-tackles this season, Reds lock Kane Douglas was yellow-carded for pulling at Beast Mtawarira’s neck in the 57th minute.
With a lot of the Reds muscle gone, the Sharks understandably went for rolling mauls when awarded penalties, but there was no accuracy in their first couple of attempts, but eventually eighthman Tera Mtembu rumbled over in the 61st minute after the Queenslanders disintegrated.
Lambie converted for a 26-18 lead, but they were to score no further points as they seemed to lack a clear plan in the final quarter.
Kerevi is a particular threat in this Reds side and he muscled over from close range again in the 64th minute, but the killer blow was landed by his midfield partner Duncan Paia’aua, who ran an excellent line back inside, cutting straight through before replacement scrumhalf James Tuttle finished strongly.
The result was a sharp reminder to the Sharks of the accuracy that is required to win overseas – they simply made too many errors in discipline and decision-making, although a losing bonus point was some reward for the competitiveness they showed.
Mtawarira was full of energy in the front row, Du Preez was a force with ball-in-hand and Am was exciting at times in the backline, but the overall Sharks performance was not good enough to earn victory.
Reds – Tries: Scott Higginbotham, Samu Kerevi (2), James Tuttle. Conversion: Quade Cooper. Penalties: Cooper (2).
Sharks – Tries: Jean-Luc du Preez, Tera Mtembu. Conversions: Pat Lambie (2). Penalties: Lambie (4).