Sharks lose to Highlanders

The Highlanders beat the Sharks 25-22 in a Super Rugby match in Dunedin.

Sharks coach John Plumtree. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN

DUNEDIN - The Otago Highlanders ended a year of Super Rugby misery by bravely repelling a late Sharks rally to prevail 25-22 in Dunedin on Saturday, their first win of the season at the ninth time of asking.

Centre Shaun Treeby, scrumhalf Aaron Smith and flyhalf Colin Slade all crossed for tries as the Highlanders recorded their first win since beating the Auckland Blues on 26 May last season.

Slade missed four kicks at goal and the Sharks spent most of the final minutes camped in the Highlanders 22, but the home side bravely held with 14 men before forcing a turnover that brought the final whistle in the 83rd minute of a tense clash.

It was the Sharks who were down to 14 men first when winger JP Pietersen was sent to the sin bin in the seventh minute after a deliberate knock on from an offside position as the Highlanders sensed an early try.

Taking advantage of the extra man, Slade's clever grubber kick in behind the Sharks defence fell to centre Treeby who touched down by the posts in the 10th minute.

The Sharks were quick to respond, using a South African strength catch and drive move from the lineout that sucked in Highlanders defenders close to their line before the ball was spread in field with Meyer Bosman touching down by the posts.

Patrick Lambie converted and added a penalty before the flyhalf set up a second try in the 35th minute with a chip kick over the defence that Bosman collected and offloaded to winger Lwazi Mvovo, who outpaced fullback Ben Smith to the line.

Lambie missed the conversion but the Sharks went in to the break 15-7 ahead after Slade was wayward with another penalty.

The Highlanders sprang out of the traps at the start of the second period, probing in the Sharks 22 before Aaron Smith dived over for the home side's second try when his quick tap penalty caught the visitors napping.

Slade finally found his range and slotted the conversion to cut the deficit to one and then added two tricky penalties to put Super Rugby's bottom side ahead 20-15 in the 53rd minute.

Now playing with confidence, Slade then started and finished a brilliant move that resulted in the Highlanders third try.

The flyhalf taking a high ball just inside his own half before offloading with Ben and Aaron Smith making telling breaks and passes before prop Chris King popped the ball free for Slade to sprint in.

Ten points down, the Sharks finally awoke.

The visitors went through a breathless spell of more than 26 phases before turning over the ball which the Highlanders hacked clear only for the Sharks to return it from their own half with Bosman on hand to crash over after more good recycling.

Lambie converted to cut the deficit to three with just over 15 minutes remaining and the Sharks racked up the pressure.

Twice the flyhalf rejected the opportunity to kick for goal and level the scores after the Highlanders gave away penalties in their own 22, one of which forced lock Brad Thorn to the sin bin.

But despite the numerical disadvantage the Highlanders, who have struggled defensively this year, held on for the rare win.