The Sharks back-up brigade produced a stirring last quarter of the match to eventually go down fighting 24-12 against Connacht in their United Rugby Championship (URC) game at the Sportsgrounds in Galway on Saturday night.
A poor first 56 minutes saw a young Sharks side staring down the barrel of a big defeat with Connacht leading 24-0 after running in four tries, but some strong performances from the replacements like Lionel Cronje, Grant Williams and Kerron van Vuuren inspired them to battle back.
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In the match it was a very scrappy start from both sides, with a number of mistakes leading to an almost scoreless first quarter.
But in the 20th minute Connacht opened the scoring from a lineout deep in the Sharks 22m, with them setting up the maul and rumbling over for flank Conor Oliver to dot down, while flyhalf Jack Carty hit the post with the conversion to leave the score 5-0.
Four minutes later the hosts were in again as a chip from Carty was superbly fielded by outside centre Tom Farrell, with him breaking into the 22m, drawing the last defender and putting his centre partner Cathal Forde in under the posts for the converted score.
Connacht was now in the ascendancy and they continued pressuring the Sharks over the rest of the half, but it took until the halftime whistle for them to go over again.
Attacking from a lineout they put the ball through the hands, with fullback Tiernan O’Halloran getting the ball on the loop around and running in untouched, with Carty’s extras giving them a 19-0 lead at the break.
The visitors started the second half well which saw Connacht under the pump, leading to hooker Shane Delahunt being yellow carded for hauling down a Sharks maul.
Despite managing to get close a few times the Sharks however could not make the extra man count as the home side held out.
In the 55th minute Connacht then got their bonus point try as an attempted clearance from flyhalf Nevaldo Fleurs was charged down by Forde, with him regathering and running in his second, to put them ahead 24-0.
The Sharks then finally managed to respond in the 61st minute as they attacked from a couple of tap and go’s in the Connacht 22m, with inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg receiving the ball and pumping the legs through tackle attempts and over, with replacement back Lionel Cronje nailing the conversion.
Six minutes later the Sharks thought they had reduced the deficit to 10 points after hooker Kerron van Vuuren charged down a kick and then got the ball back to go over in the corner.
But after Cronje had converted the ref was asked to check a potential offside during the charge down, which was picked up, leading to the score being chalked off.
The Sharks finally got a deserved second try in the 79th minute as they attacked into the Connacht 22m, getting right onto the line, where replacement prop Dian Bleuler picked up and drove over for an unconverted try making it 24-12.
It however proved too late for them to try and get into losing bonus point range as time ran out and Connacht cleared into touch to end the match.
Connacht: Tries – Conor Oliver, Cathal Forde (2), Tiernan O’Halloran; Conversions – Jack Carty (2)
Sharks: Tries – Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Dian Bleuler; Conversion – Lionel Cronje