'Canes escape from much-improved Sharks

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09 May 2015
'Canes escape from much-improved Sharks

The Hurricanes picked up another five-point win despite a tough battle with the Sharks, triumphing 32-24 in Wellington.

Even without the All Blacks trio of TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea the Hurricanes had enough talent and endeavour to put away an improved but far from perfect Sharks side.

We've witnessed the Hurricanes dazzle with their attacking play but this was about being gritty and grinding out a win that was never guaranteed until the final whistle.

Ten wins from 11 matches now mean the Hurricanes are in prime position in the New Zealand Conference ahead of the Highlanders' visit to Emirates Airlines Park later on Saturday.

After such an abject showing in Dunedin the Sharks owed it to their fans to put in a competent performance against the league leaders, and they had the perfect start.

Showing real intent with the ball in hand, former captain Bismarck du Plessis was the man to grab the opening try when he cleared up the a messy lineout short of the 'Canes line and powered his way over.

Building on that bright start was fundamental but the same old ghosts came back to haunt the Sharks as their indiscipline let them down after two high tackles, the latter from Lionel Cronje on Nehe Milner-Skudder being particularly poor.

James Marshall, in for Beauden Barrett, missed his first shot at the posts with a penalty but the Hurricanes attack came good with a try for Cory Jane after he latched onto Ma'a Nonu's looped pass in acres of space out on the wing.

Cronje hit back with his first penalty but the Hurricanes exploited some soft tackling with a well-worked try to restore the lead.

Matt Proctor hit a fine inside line off Ma'a Nonu and the winger created enough space for Conrad Smith to make his way over after breaking through to score.

Another shambolic high tackle from the Sharks saw them rightfully put down to 14 men with Etienne Oosthuizen seeing yellow right off the restart, but the visitors were growing in confidence.

A series of penalties within the Hurricanes 22 saw the South African franchise opt for the corner rather than the points, where they ultimately came up short.

Steyn did his best to notch up another three points on half-time but his long-range penalty was nowhere near, meaning the Hurricanes lead 14-10 at half-time in an open first half not short of errors.

Line breaks and broken tackles weren't a problem for the Hurricanes but their execution wasn't quite at its best, as was illustrated by the opening minutes of the second half.

A prolonged period in the Sharks 22 went unrewarded with the visitors striking back with a rare long-range score finished off by S'bura Sithole as Cronje did well to put him into space.

Coming somewhat against the run of play, the Sharks forced the Hurricanes to chase down their lead with the home side responding thanks to a second try in a week for Reggie Goodes. The loosehead, who is having a fine season, powered his way over from close-range with Marshall's conversion making it 21-17.

Noticeably sharper in defence the Sharks began to impose themselves in the contest and their go-ahead try was outstanding.

JP Pietersen, bar his missed tackle on Smith in the first half, had an excellent game and after a good pass from Steyn the experienced Springbok drew the defenders across and offloaded on his inside to Akona Ndungane for the score.

With a shock win on the cards Marshall missed a penalty to tie the scores, but you can never write the Hurricanes off.

Sharp hands from Ardie Savea put the big lock Jeremy Thrush over in the corner for not only a try to take the lead with five minutes left, but also a try bonus point.

It meant the Hurricanes only held a two-point lead going into the closing stages with Marshall missing the conversion to set up a dramatic finish.

Weak tackles cost the Sharks again when Smith earned the Hurricanes a penalty within range for Marshall who snuck it in past the post for a bit of breathing room.

Cruelly given how much better they performed this week compared to last Friday, Marshall then denied the Sharks a losing bonus point with a second penalty, as the Hurricanes emerged on top 32-24.