Dick Muir’s team escaped with a draw after a controversial match in Wellington that saw Tongan import Epi Taione red-carded for a stupid head-butt on ‘Canes second rower Jeremy Thrush.
With the scores locked at 13-all in the final seconds and with the Sharks throwing everything into defence, though a man down, referee Paul Marks failed to award a clear-cut penalty try to the home team on the final hooter, thus saving Brad Barritt’s blushes. Barritt pulled off a clear early tackle on the surging Conrad Smith who was sure to dot down after the ball was hacked forward into the Sharks in-goal area.
It was by no means the first call that Marks got wrong on the night. The Australian referee showed his inexperience and lack of feel for the game throughout the night, blowing repeatedly for meaningless technical “half infringements” and overreacting to virtually everything that happened. A clear case in point was the Sharks own score, a penalty try after it was ruled that the home team collapsed a maul with the Sharks sure to score. It was a big call; one that a more experienced referee probably wouldn’t have made.
The first half was a tight affair, with neither side prepared to give the ball any air. The Sharks will feel that they emerged the better side, having played the percentages better and shaded the Hurricanes up front. Scoring opportunities were few and far between, though and the half-time score was three points apiece, with both Frans Steyn and Jimmy Gopperth having missed a number of kickable penalties.
The second half saw more of the same; the Sharks appeared to have the ascendancy when, after going 6-3 up, Canes prop Neemia Tialata was yellow-carded for a late shoulder charge. Any hope of advantage from the numerical superiority disappeared,though, following Taione’s dismissal 3 minutes later. The Canes drew level, only for the Sharks to pull away again, courtesy of the dubious try.
Again, somewhat bafflingly, the ref then failed to punish some pretty serious try-preventing discretions by the Sharks in their own red zone, although the Canes ultimately scored legitimately through hooker Andrew Hore (although one might argue that he ran into his own player before crossing the line). The Sharks had a brilliant opportunity to sow it up themselves with 3 minuets to play, only for replacement scrumhalf Rory Kockott to hit the upright from a reasonably simple penalty.
A let-off for the Sharks and a huge amount of soul-searching to do before next week. Ryan Kankowski was outstanding, while Odwa Ndungane and Stefan Terblanche put in some neat touches. There was precious little to write home about otherwise.
Hurricanes (13): Try Andrew Hore. Two penalties and a conversion by Jimmy Gopperth.
Sharks (13): Penalty try. Conversion and a penalty by Frans Steyn. A penalty by Ruan Pienaar.