Super Rugby: Highlanders score four in stunning 34-18 victory over Sharks
Last Updated: 25/04/14 8:27pm
Highlanders ran in four tries as they pulled off a shock 34-18 victory over Super Rugby leaders Sharks at Kings Park on Friday.
Jamie Joseph's side clinched a surprising bonus point away from home as they capitalised on a litany of handling errors to overthrow the Sharks in Durban.
Richard Buckman, Aaron Smith and Shane Christie all raced over as the visitors forged a healthy 24-12 lead at the break, with four Tim Swiel penalties the lone reprieve for the hosts.
Swiel brought the Sharks within six after the break but when Malakai Fekitoa stormed over from inside his own half, the Highlanders were allowed to see out the closing stages in peace.
It was the visitors who drew first blood as Lima Sopoaga bisected the uprights after the Sharks were penalised at the scrum.
The Sharks' riposte came from the lineout as they broke into the Highlanders' 22 before Charl MacLeod grabbed a loose ball from the ruck and passed to Lwazi Mvovo who crossed the whitewash, only for the TMO to rule Paul Jordaan obstructed the defence.
Jake White's side got on the scoreboard after seven minutes as Swiel slotted home his first attempt of the night from the kicking tee and the Sharks fly-half kicked the hosts in front with a second three-pointer moments later.
Highlanders hit back with their first clear cut attack of the night as Buckman raced onto the end of chip through to touch down the opening try of the night.
Sopoaga added the conversion with help from the woodwork, only for Swiel to reduce the Highlanders' advantage to one point with his third successful penalty kick.
Once again, the Highlanders' response was brisk as second row Joe Wheeler drew close to the line, before scrum-half Smith pierced through the Sharks defence for the visitors' second try, which Sopoaga duly converted.
Flanker Christie added a third eight minutes before the break as the Highlanders drove the lineout maul over the whitewash and Sopoaga extended their lead to 15 with the extras.
As the half-time klaxon sounded, the Sharks won a penalty at the scrum which allowed Swiel to reduce their arrears to 12 at the interval.
Swiel resumed where he left off following the restart, chipping away at the Highlanders lead as he slipped a fifth penalty over the crossbar.
Poor discipline continued to cost the Highlanders as referee Jaco Peyper brandished a yellow card in the direction of Wheeler after an infringement at the lineout and with that penalty, Swiel brought the Sharks within six.
As tempers flared, Francois Steyn and Smith flirted with danger by entering into a brief fracas, but inconclusive video evidence spared them from joining Wheeler on the touchline.
The league leaders were unable to make their extra man count as Tendai Mtawarira broke through the defence before floating a pass to JP Pietersen who spilled possession back into the hands of Joseph's side.
When the Sharks were caught offside, Sopoaga quickly slotted home his second penalty of the match, before the Highlanders ensured the tie was put to bed.
Fekitoa collected the ball in his own half before making a slicing run and powering his way over to claim a bonus-point try for the Highlanders and Sopoaga rounded off a peerless kicking display by slotting the conversion to take his tally to 14 points.
The Highlanders' hopes of making the play-offs were given a shot in the arm as they moved up to fifth, while a Brumbies win over the Chiefs earlier in the day ensured the Sharks still retain their position at the summit.
Super Rugby 2014 Round 11
Western Force moved third in the Super Rugby standings after Sias Ebersohn kicked them to 15-9 victory over the Bulls.
Hurricanes moved top of the New Zealand conference with a 35-21 bonus-point triumph over the Reds on Saturday.
The Blues kept their slender Super Rugby play-off hopes alive by beating New South Wales Waratahs 21-13 at Eden Park.