The Coastal Sharks retained their composure to snuff out an Auckland Blues fightback for a 29-23 victory at Eden Park on Friday, posting their eighth straight win against the New Zealanders.
The Blues’ sixth loss in seven games adds to the pressure on coach Pat Lam, who broke down in tears this week recounting how racist “fans” had blamed the team’s worst ever start to a Super rugby season on his Samoan heritage.
The result maintained the Sharks’ record as a bogey team for the Blues, who have not defeated the South Africans since 2005 and remain rooted to the bottom of the New Zealand conference after the loss.
It was a deserved win for the Sharks, who scored four tries to two and maintained their attacking edge after the Blues briefly took the lead early in the second half.
Skipper Keegan Daniel was also heartened by the Sharks’ improved defense, which held firm as the Blues threw everything into attack late in the game.
“I’m proud of the way the boys defended, and at the end of the day we scored four tries and scored the bonus point, so I’m happy with that,” he said.
Handling errors and simple mistakes again proved the Blues’ downfall as the Auckland side conceded two early intercept tries to give the Sharks a flying start.
Blues captain Keven Mealamu said his players were stringing together some good phases of play, but letting themselves down with poor execution.
“The boys are really trying hard out there, but those little things really cost us,” he said. “You just can’t play in this competition with that many errors.”
Daniel set up the opening try in the third minute, intercepting a loose pass from Benson Stanley and running half the length of the field, before being brought down just short of the line.
Lock Steven Sykes roared up in support and bulldozed his way past an ineffectual Blues defense for the five-pointer.
Stanley almost made amends five minutes later, releasing Ma’a Nonu for a driving run, but the attack broke down after a knock-on from Gareth Anscombe.
Flyhalf Pat Lambie extended the Sharks’ lead with a penalty after 15 minutes, then another Blues mistake gifted the South Africans a second intercept try two minutes later.
Chris Lowrey passed the ball straight to Sharks hooker Craig Burden, who set off from inside his own half, outpacing Rudi Wulf for the try, with Lambie adding the conversion to make it 15-0.
The Blues made it onto the scoreboard through an Anscombe penalty and finally began to exert some pressure late in the opening half as their lineout, another problem area this year, began to click.
The hard work paid off when the Blues won a scrum against the feed, with prop Tony Woodcock forcing his way past two defenders for a try seven minutes from the break.
Anscombe converted the try and potted a late drop-goal to narrow the Sharks’ lead to 15-13 at halftime.
The Blues maintained their momentum after the restart, taking the lead when Stanley gathered a loose pass from the base of the Sharks’ scrum and touched down between the posts, ensuring an easy conversion for Anscombe.
However, the Sharks hit back with two quick tries, the first from Daniel, who darted past two defenders before crossing the line.
The second came after Lambie made a superb line break then offloaded to Tim Whitehead, who juggled the ball while running at full tilt and then steadied to score a bonus-point try to make it 29-20.