Desperation the difference for Highlanders
Desperation was the key factor when the Highlanders held out the Sharks for their first win of the Investec Super Rugby season at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night.
Hosea Gear brought off what was probably the match-winning tackle as the Sharks moved the ball wide in the last minute.
"It was a case of a good player making a big play when it counted," coach Jamie Joseph said.
"We definitely didn't deserve to lose but perhaps a draw would have been a fair result."
Ben and Aaron Smith sparked the Highlanders and Colin Slade, who finished off the try of the season, contributed 15 points.
Joseph also had high praise for his midfield. Tamati Ellison was playing his first game for six months and Shaun Treeby his first game for more than two months.
"The try by Colin Slade for me was the try of the season," Joseph said. "It had everything.
"But the win was about desperation. They've copped a bit of flak, and probably rightly, for not closing out tight matches this season. Over time that leads to a drop in confidence and that's what they had to overcome.
"We played the last two or three minutes with 14 men, we held on and that's what I'm proud about."
While there were celebrations at the final whistle, Joseph said the mood in the changing room was quite sombre.
"When you think about building a cathedral, it's really only one brick, isn't it?
"There'll be a bounce in their step now when they leave for South Africa."
All Black Ma'a Nonu will miss the tour for treatment and rest on his injured knee. The first game is against the Southern Kings in Port Elizabeth next Sunday (NZT).
Meanwhile, there was more woe for the Sharks who suffered their first loss to the Highlanders since 2005 and their fifth in 10 matches this season.
Springbok centre Frans Steyn has a suspected broken leg and form No.8 Lubabalo Mtembu popped an AC joint in his shoulder.
The Sharks turned down three easy penalty shots in the last two minutes which would have drawn the game but coach John Plumtree was philosophical.
"The boys wanted the four points and the win," he said. "There would not have been time to go for the win had we taken a shot at goal."
His immediate priority is fielding a fit team against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Friday night as the injury list lengthens.
"We've just got to keep going," he said. "We've got to get some fit guys organised to join us in Australia. Our backs are decimated. It's disruptive and disappointing."