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Putt's luck rubs off as Sharks win
By Brent Edwards

Coach Kevin Putt had a hole-in-one at golf in Dunedin this week and the Sharks had similar fortune at Carisbrook last night when they controversially beat the Highlanders in a last-gasp thriller.

The Sharks, so unfortunate to be beaten after the siren by the Brumbies last week, were just as fortunate to finish on the right side of the ledger last night. Halfback Craig Davidson, who was unluckily sin-binned in Canberra, was the hero last night when he was awarded a try under the posts which Butch James easily converted. It appeared Davidson had made a double movement but Australian referee George Ayoub, who had made some confusing decisions - particularly at scrum-time - had no hesitation in awarding the try.

There was prolonged booing from the crowd when the replay was shown and it was a crestfallen Highlanders side which left the ground while the Sharks celebrated their first win at Carisbrook. In truth, the Highlanders could not have many complaints for they let the Sharks back into the game through their own basic mistakes and lack of concentration. The Highlanders, ahead 15-5 at half-time, almost seemed in a trance early in the second spell as the Sharks regained level terms after a try by centre Trevor Halstead.

The Highlanders awoke to score 17 points in 5min and, at 32-15, the game should have been under lock and key. But the Sharks, inspired by one of the great tries by fullback Brent Russell, promptly struck back with 14 points in 3min. Russell's 60m try, when he beat six tackles on his way to the line, was reminiscent of Christian Cullen in his pomp.

Tony Brown's third penalty goal 10min from time extended the Highlanders' lead to six points and as they battered the Sharks line, the game seemed under control. Craig Newby was held up centimetres short but the Highlanders somehow contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Ben Hurst lost the ball inside the 22, Hayden Pederson was penalised (probably unluckily) for what was judged a high tackle on Russell and the Sharks forced an attacking line-out 14m out.

It was from from this line-out that the Sharks mounted a drive and Davidson broke Highlander hearts when he seemed to rabbit across for what Ayoub ruled was a try. The Highlanders were like the little girl in the story. When they were good, they were very good, but when they were bad, they were awful. Some of their tackling was woeful, much of their field kicking was ill-directed and there seemed too few cool heads under pressure in a match in which the momentum swung crazily. Perhaps the culprit was the long journey from South Africa but the Highlanders, for the third consecutive week, failed to capitalise on a winning situation.

They gained two bonus points but they lacked sustained energy and fizz.

Brown and Seilala Mapusua were the pick of erratic backline while Newby - arguably the High- landers' best player this year - Simon Maling, Anton Oliver and Carl Hayman were the pick of the forwards. The big Sharks pack often made life difficult for the Highlanders with captain John Smit, AJ Venter and Russel Winter outstanding. Russell was the star of the backs while Davidson used his experience and guile, as did Gregor Townsend when he came on in the second spell. Grant Webb scored his first Super 12 try less than 2min into the game after a penetrating break down the main stand touch by Newby. The Highlanders won six phases and Seru Rabeni slipped a pass to Webb, who beat a tackle to score in the corner.

The Sharks equalised 14min later when Smit brushed aside the tackles of Rabeni and Aisea Tuilevu, and James, in support, scored in the Rose Stand corner. Brown regained the lead with a penalty goal and the forwards organised an excellent try from a line-out maul 11min before half-time. They drove on a 5m take from Simon Maling and it was Oliver who finished it off after they split the Sharks defence. It was a disjointed spell, the Highlanders often conceding penalties in prime attacking positions while the backs did not help the cause with some inaccurate kicking.

Scores were: Sharks 36 (Craig Davidson, 2, Butch James, Trevor Halstead, Brent Russell tries; James 4 conversions, penalty goal), Highlanders 35 (Grant Webb, Anton Oliver, Ben Hurst, Hayden Pedersen tries; Tony Brown 3 conversions, 3 penalty goals)


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