Highlanders dominate possession but Sharks win at home. By Mark Ella

It must have been a very frustrating night for Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph as his side completely dominated all facets of the game against the Sharks, except on the score board. If you are a stats person, you will be scratching your head when you learn that the Sharks made two thirds more tackles than the Highlanders with the later dominating territory with nearly seventy percent of possession, only to lose 28 to 16. So what can you make out of that?  Certainly the Sharks defended like their lives depended on it aided by some ill discipline from the Highlanders which kept the Sharks in the game allowing them to take a 15-9 lead into the half time break. It wasn't the most exciting 40 minutes of rugby I have seen with referee Steve Walsh getting frustrated with the constant infringements around the ruck area. The Sharks eventually lost Jacques Botes around the 31st minute to ill discipline costing him ten minutes in the sin bin. You could see what the Highlanders were trying to go and that was to play he game from side to side and run the big Sharks forwards around, however poor ball control, mainly from captain Jamie Mackintosh, took the pressure off the Sharks. The Sharks on the other hand were always running sideways and as much as they tried rarely put any pressure on the Highlanders try line. The only good thing to come out of the first half for the Sharks was the return of loose head prop Beast Mtawarira who was certainly putting pressure on his opponent at scrums. The Highlanders did have an excuse for being out of sorts as they had injuries to flankers Doug Tietjens and replacement flanker Elliot Dixon, then having to put a lock on the side of the scrum. The second half started brightly for the Highlanders with great ball movement with Mike Delany and Hose Gear making some decisive breaks giving encouragement to the Kiwis. The were rewarded in the 49th minute after a line out near the Sharks line resulted in Kurt Baker scoring in the right hand corner with Delany converting giving the Highlanders the lead 16-15. This try at finally sparked the Sharks into action with their backs and forwards, led by Keegan Daniel hitting the line with purpose putting the defense of the Highlanders under pressure. Two more goals by Lambie from ruck infringements by the Highlanders restored the Sharks lead to 21-16 then after a Highlander restart, the Sharks scored their only try for the night. Live wire Sharks half back McLeod caught the restart on his 22 line and ducked under two high tackles to link up with Keegan Daniel who kicked ahead which Hose Gear couldn't control. The result being that an ever alert Patrick Lambie swooping on the ball to score close to the left upright for him the convert for the Sharks to lead 28-16. Lambie had scored all of the Sharks points and obviously the momentum was clearly going the Sharks way when rain started not long after making it all the more difficult for the Highlanders to drag back the Sharks lead. The final score of 28-16 wasn't a true reflection of the game and it must be said that the Highlanders had so much possession with nothing to show for it. The Highlanders don't get back into New Zealand until Tuesday and then play the Hurricanes on Saturday evening which will be another tough game considering their injury toll. As for the Sharks who are sitting in third place in their Conference they now have a run of home games to cement their place in the Super Rugby finals, now the heat is coming on all teams as they will live and die by their results in the second half on the competition. Mark Ella

Rugby Ball