Highlanders secure thrilling victory
At last. The Highlanders ended a sequence of eight consecutive losses when they held out the Sharks for a 25-22 win at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night.
Both teams scored three tries but magnificent performances by Ben and Aaron Smith and a match-saving tackle by Hosea Gear won the game for the Highlanders.
The Sharks had won their last six games against the Highlanders and 10 of the 16 played between the franchises.
The eighth-placed Sharks were coming off a narrow 29-37 loss to the Chiefs while the winless Highlanders were fresh after the bye.
Brad Thorn led the Highlanders out in his 100th game and the Sharks were a man down after six minutes when JP Pietersen was sin binned for deliberately knocking down Aaron Smith's pass as the home side desperately attacked.
Colin Slade struck the upright with a penalty attempt from 37m but the Highanders struck after 10 minutes when he chip-kicked through and Shaun Treeby gathered and scored by the posts.
But the Sharks levelled at 7-all after 14 minutes when second five-eighth Meyer Bosman scored under the posts after a well-organised rolling maul from a lineout.
The Highlanders were not lacking enterprise but they were playing skittery rugby at times and also turned down three kickable penalties in the first quarter.
The Sharks warmed to their work and Lambie kicked a simple penalty after 30 minutes when Chris King infringed at a ruck.
Ben Smith lost the ball diving for the line as the Highlanders attacked but the Sharks scored their second try after 35 minutes when left wing Lwazi Mvovo collected Riaan Viljoen's chip and sprinted 40 to score to make it 15-7.
Slade missed a penalty from 27m and in front just before the break which just about summed up the Highlanders' half.
They again had not converted their opportunities into points and four missed shots at goal did not help.
The Sharks had spent a fair time on defence but they had been more efficient in taking their chances.
The Highlanders made a strong start to the second spell when, after a period on attack, halfback Aaron Smith took a quick tap penalty and darted over. Slade converted and it was 15-14.
They took the lead 17-15 after seven minutes when Slade kicked a penalty from 45m and in front when the Sharks infringed at a ruck. He kicked his second penalty four minutes later and the Highlanders led 20-15.
The Highlanders then scored their try of the season when Ben Smith sliced open the defence and combined with Aaron Smith and Chris King before Slade finished it off in the corner to increase the lead to 25-15 after 18 minutes.
But the Sharks struck back and, after multiple phases, Bosman scored and Lambie converted to reduce the gap to three points.
Both teams had their turns on attack but it was still a three-point game going into the last 10 minutes.
Highlanders 25 (Shaun Treeby, Aaron Smith, Colin Slade tries; Slade 2 con, 2 pen) Sharks 22 (Meyer Cosman 2, Lwazi Mvovo tries; Patrick Lambie 2 con, pen) HT: 7-15.