The Brumbies played the better rugby after halftime to break the stalemate and then hold on for a 16-9 win over the Sharks in a completely forgettable top of the log Vodacom Super Rugby clash in Canberra on Saturday.
To say it was a miserable game would be an understatement. Jake White’s return to Canberra, where he coached the Brumbies in the ways of South African rugby for two years, was never going to be a spectacular occasion. But the rain that soaked the ground and turned the ball into a cake of soap determined that it was going to be even less so.
As you would expect from these two teams, particularly in the conditions that they played in, there was a lack of attacking ambition from either side – and the late fumble from the Brumbies when they did try and counter-attack from deep inside their own half and it almost led to a Sharks scoring opportunity probably underlined why that was the case.
The game was dominated by the boot, with both teams not prepared to back anything other than their long kicking game. For most of the first half it looked as though the Sharks, who were highly physical with their forward approach, were shading that battle, and probably shaded the territory stats before halftime.
However, they were let down by an off night from Frans Steyn with his goalkicking. He missed a crucial one in the 11th minute and again two minutes later, as well as a longer attempt, at a stage of the game when the Sharks needed to get in front for their confidence. To be fair, Brumbies goalkicker Christian Lealiifano also hit the posts twice with kicks in the second half, and Nic White missed a long range attempt, so it wasn’t as if the Brumbies didn’t waste opportunities too.
The Brumbies started strongly when centre Joe Temane, who later had to leave the field injured, surged through a gap from the kick-off and transferred play into the Sharks half, where the visitors conceded a penalty which enabled Lealiifano to make it 3-0 after less than two minutes. The Sharks stabilised quickly, and it was then that Steyn’s costly walkabout with his goalkicking cost them.
He did eventually get a chance from in front of the posts and he levelled the scores, but the Brumbies went ahead with another Lealiifano kick following a dubious scrum penalty shortly before the break. Given how much of the game they’d had, the Brumbies would have been pleased to be 6-3 up at the break.
The Sharks’ inability to get enough points on the board in the first half when they seemed to be shading the game, did come back to hurt them after halftime, with the Brumbies spending much of the first 25 minutes of the second half in Sharks territory.
But the half started well for them, with a commanding spell of rugby in which the forwards had been impressive on the drive taking them to within a few metres of the Brumbies line for the first time in the game. It was halted though by a cynical foul by the Brumbies, and given how close the Sharks were from scoring, Sharks skipper Bismarck du Plessis was right to ask the referee if perhaps there should have been a yellow card.
The Sharks did have the penalty though, and it was in an easy enough position for Steyn to slot it to level the scores at 6-all. The Brumbies responded immediately though by producing a carbon-copy drive after the kick-off and they netted a penalty which Lealiifano kicked to make it 9-6. The Brumbies were in the lead for the rest of the match, and could have enjoyed a wider gap had Lealiifano not missed those two successive relatively easy penalty attempts.
Given that the Sharks are looking less than impressive with ball in hand and don’t look like a team that can chase a game, the Brumbies must have felt they had just about clinched it when after a good line-out take the play was transferred to a loose scrum in the middle of the field and just outside the Sharks 22, and from there scrumhalf White put lock Sam Carter into the gap and he powered through to score untouched.
The conversion made it 16-6, and although Steyn drew another three points back with a penalty, the Sharks were effectively chasing a draw in the final eight minutes as scoring twice seemed beyond them. Their best opportunity came when Lwazi Mvovo was set free down the left after the aforementioned fumble running out of his territory by Brumbies centre Kuridrani.
Apart from his goalkicking, Steyn never had a great game in general play, and does look a little cumbersome at times for flyhalf. His field kicking lacked accuracy too, and twice he kicked out on the field from restarts. Those were mistakes that prevented the Sharks from maintaining momentum, pressure and continuity in their game.
The two scrums took turns at forcing the issue, but the telling scrum penalties were forced by the Brumbies, and ultimately the Sharks ended the game in the situation that was accurately summed up by skipper Du Plessis afterwards – “It’s back to the drawing board”.
The Sharks did grab a valuable bonus point for losing by less than seven and have five points from their two games on tour with two to come. Although the Sharks lost, the weather conditions and the nature of the game made it hard to say definitively whether the result was an indication that the Sharks lacked championship pedigree. They are though going to have to become more ambitious with ball in hand than they are at the moment.
Brumbies - Try: Sam Carter. Conversion: Christian Lealiifano. Penalties: Christian Lealiifano(2).
Sharks - Penalties: Frans Steyn(3). .