SHARKS 29 (Riaan Viljoen 2, Willem Alberts, Lwazi Mvovo tries; Frederic Michalak 3 cons; pen) bt UNIVERSITY OF CANBERRA BRUMBIES 26 (Jesse Mogg, Nic White tries; Christian Lealiifano 2 cons, 4 pens) at Canberra Stadium. Referee: Keith Brown. Crowd: 13,128.
Two run-away tries and some gap-proof defence have helped the Sharks to a three-point win at Canberra Stadium on Saturday night, 29-26.
The University of Canberra Brumbies had their chances to win the game applying heavy pressure on the Sharks line in the final minutes, but couldn’t find the killer blow to put the South Africans to bed.
It was the first time the Sharks have won in Canberra since 1998 and the loss was compounded by the news Matt Toomua will miss the rest of the season with a torn cruciate ligament.
Toomua had looked good in attack and defence making this injury all the more frustrating for the promising 22-year-old. He was taken straight from Canberra Stadium to have scans which revealed the disappointing news.
Toomua’s injury was a dark spot on a night which could have easily tipped in the home side’s favour.
On three occasions in the final 10 minutes the University of Canberra Brumbies launched more than 10 consecutive phases at the Sharks defence, but could only come up with 10 points. It was the University of Canberra Brumbies first failure of the season at home, but other domestic losses and the bonus point mean they will maintain their top spot in the Australian conference.
Head Coach Jake White said his side had enough chances to win the match.
"We feel a bit disappointed, a bit like the Chiefs game, all credit to them, they defended well and turned defence into attack from their own goal line, and I'm not going to make excuses but the reality is we probably let it get away from us a bit," White said.
"At the end when we realised we could win it it was too late. The positives are that we didn't lie down and die. The negatives are that we shouldn't get ourselves in those situations.
"I'd prefer if we don't panic, if we just build momentum when we get our opportunities. We want to improve every week and learn from our mistake every week. If that happens I'll be happy."
The opening exchanges gave every indication this match was going to be another arm wrestle. Both teams felt each other out with penetrating kicks, the University of Canberra Brumbies coming off second best after knocking two balls into touch on the full.
Sharks fans celebrated with their team as they registered first points thanks to a penalty, which was answered within minutes by a shot from Christian Lealiifano to make it 3-3.
The Sharks were the first over the try-line when Riaan Viljoen scored out wide. The fullback found himself on the end of a sweeping movement to score but couldn’t add the extras.
Another penalty to Lealiifano had the home team back in with a sniff and Jesse Mogg took full advantage of the momentum swing scoring a length-of-the-field five-pointer off the back of some free space and a clever chip’n’chase.
It was the try of the season for the University of Canberra Brumbies, Mogg using his finger tips to regather his kick and fly past fullback Viljoen for five more points.
Disappointingly for University of Canberra Brumbies fans, their lead was short lived, Viljoen claiming his second try of the night after an intercept from Odwa Ndungane.
Despite this hic-cup, Lealiifano landed his third penalty minutes later, handing the lead back to the University of Canberra Brumbies and they hit the sheds 16-15 up.
The second half started with plenty of drama for the University of Canberra Brumbies, Toomua and Henry Speight both leaving the field injured.
Toomua’s injury was far more concerning than Speight’s with the Fijian flyer likely to overcome a cork to face the Reds next Saturday. The Sharks made the most of the changes, scoring a scrappy try under the posts thanks to Willem Alberts.
With fresh men on, the University of Canberra Brumbies looked reinvigorated and found themselves applying plenty of pressure in Sharks territory. Lealiifano again added three points to take the score to 22-19, before mounting a second wave of attack that lasted 16 phases.
But against the run of play the Sharks swooped, speedster Lwazi Mvovo taking the final pass to score the third length-of-the-field try for the evening and give his side a 10-point buffer, 29-19.
Once again the University of Canberra Brumbies bench was impressive and left its mark when the chips were down. Ita Vaea, Scott Fardy and rookie Scott Sio all made plenty of metres over the advantage line but couldn’t manage to break the Sharks gap-proof defence.
The last 10 minutes of pressure gave scrum-half Nic White his first career try and his team mates a sniff at victory. They held the ball confidently and looked set for at least a draw, but the final pass didn’t stick handing the Sharks their first win on Australian soil for 2012.
University of Canberra Brumbies
1. Ruaidhri Murphy (replaced by Scott Sio)
2. Stephen Moore (replaced by Anthony Hegarty)
3. Ben Alexander
4. Leon Power
5. Sam Carter
6. Peter Kimlin (replaced by Scott Fardy)
7. Michael Hooper (replaced by Ita Vaea)
8. Ben Mowen
9. Ian Prior (replaced by Nic White)
10. Matt Toomua (replaced by Zack Holmes)
11. Pat McCabe
12. Christian Lealiifano
13. Andrew Smith
14. Henry Speight (replaced by Joe Tomane)
15. Jesse Mogg
16. Anthony Hegarty
17. Scott Sio
18. Scott Fardy
19. Ita Vaea
20. Nic White
21. Zack Holmes
22. Joe Tomane