On the walk to the stadium I stopped in one of the pubs down Caxton Street to catch the end of the Crusaders versus Bulls game. The Crusaders had done the job and they were through. Now it was the Reds’ turn. I spoke in my preview about what could have been last time the Reds met the Sharks; now it was time to see for sure.
The Reds came out hard from the kick-off and there was an indication of the feeling involved when a Scott Higginbotham break down the wing was stopped as JP Pieterson looked to rake his hands across Higginbotham’s face. A small stink ensued but referee Kaplan was having none of it as the Reds protested.
The first points came after Kaplan gave the Sharks an advantage for a Reds tackler not releasing. Though the advantage went a long time, it mattered not. Michalak kicked the penalty goal to put the Sharks ahead 3-0.
This seemed to spur them on and they made their way straight back into the Reds territory. A wild Michalak pass to no one was eventually collected and thrown to an unmarked Pieterson on the wing who brushed the cover defence to touch down in the corner. Fred added the extras and the score was 10-0 in the 13th minute.
Though the score line was different from the last time, Ben Lucas‘s match had the same result —though it wasn’t his hammy, he did leave the game with a very bad ankle.
It didn’t take long for the Sharks to take advantage. From an early lineout throw, they worked the ball down the Reds’ half and used quick hands through plenty of phases with lots of ball movement to get Paul Jordaan over the line. Fred added the extras.
The Reds then got a penalty similar to the Sharks’ first, for the tackler not releasing, and they treated it the same way, Mike Harris putting it straight over. The Sharks pulled that straight back from the kick-off. They worked their way into the Reds’ half and Fred Michalak popped a drop goal. The score was 20-3 at that point, three-quarters of the way into the half.
The Sharks defence was massive in the first period of the game. Definitely the difference between the two teams, with the Reds just looking out-muscled. But there was a clear swing in the latter stages of the half; time would tell whether the travel was showing on the Sharks.
There appeared to be a switch in the game then, with the Reds suddenly looking more dangerous. They were stretching and asking questions of the defence. The first big one came from a three-on-two overlap for the Sharks. Yep, two Reds players took on three defenders and the combination of Higgers and Genia was enough to bamboozle them, with the captain crossing for the points. Harris added the extras to make it 20-10 to the Sharks.
This was a good way for the Reds to end the half. They needed to be in a better headspace to get themselves set for the rest of the game.
After oranges the first opportunity for points came from a penalty to the Reds at ruck time, but 40 metres out and 5 metres from the sideline proved too far for Mike Harris.
The next opportunity for points came from a trademark Will Genia pass; unfortunately, it was intercepted by Charl McLeod who raced away and put the ball down under the posts. Michalak added the extras and it was 27-10 to the Sharks.
The Reds kept pressuring the Sharks’ line. A series of scrums five metres out and constant Reds pressure, combined with ruck free-for-all from the Sharks and multiple penalties, eventually led to Kaplan’s issuing a warning to the Sharks. They then got a penalty themselves and took a scrum. They made a mess of that, the pass going dead.
The Reds then got dudded by the TMO (who, in his defence, was protecting Kaplan’s margin bet) when an apparent Liam Gill try was not awarded. The Sharks eventually were given a penalty and they made it out of their half and into the Reds’. They came away with a penalty goal opportunity which they kicked, making the score an unbeatable 30-10 with three minutes to go.
The final play of the game was actually Kaplan, who finally found his cards and gave a token yellow to a Sharks player — token, because as he was walking off the field the final hooter blew. Now that the referee had finally shown he was there the Reds were able to actually play and Radike Samo went over for a consolation try. Will Genia added the extras to end the game 30-17.
The free rein the Sharks were given at the breakdown had made the second half a shit-fight. The Reds couldn’t buy a try and Kaplan’s refusal to go to the pocket for his whistle, let alone his cards, ensured the Sharks got the points and would be travelling back to the Republic to take on the Stormers next week. The Reds, even though they played all the rugby, really missed Quade. He would have provided more direction while the Reds bashed away on the line getting nowhere.
Oh well, now Super Rugby is over for us: Go the Wallabies!
Reds 17 (Try: Genia, Gill, Samo Con: Harris 1/1, Genia 1/1 Pen: Harris 1/2) def by Sharks 30 (Try: Pieterson, Jordaan, McLeod Con: Michalak 3/3 Pen: Michalak 2/2 DG: Michalak 1/1)
Man Of The Match: Kaplan Gill
Crowd: 36 571