The Sharks scored two tries in each half to beat the Blues 29-23 in the Super Rugby game in Auckland on Friday night, claiming a bonus point and pitching the Blues’ season deeper into crisis.
Two tries from intercepts in the first half helped the Durban-based Sharks to a 15-0 lead over an Auckland team plagued by simple handling errors.
The Sharks then scored two tries in four minutes in the second half, after the Blues had rallied to lead 20-15, to regain their advantage and to close out their fourth win in eight games.
Auckland slumped to its sixth loss from seven games to remain at the bottom of the table at the end of a week of conflict and controversy.
In the worst week of the Blues’ worst season, captain Keven Mealamu broke rugby’s code of silence and publicly criticised All Blacks teammate Piri Weepu for his lack of fitness, tacitly laying the blame for Auckland’s poor form with Weepu.
And in a tearful news conference, under-fire coach Pat Lam claimed to have been the target of racial abuse on talkback shows and social media from fans disgruntled with his team’s performance.
The Blues made a poor start Friday, conceding an intercept try after only three minutes, then another after 17 minutes to trail 15-0 before the end of the first 20 minutes.
“Two intercept tries, that’s 14 gift points,” Mealamu said. “Against a side like the Sharks that’s just too many points to give away.”
The Blues came back with a try to All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock to trail by only two points, 15-13, at halftime. They then scored an intercept try of their own through center Benson Stanley to lead 20-15 only three minutes into the second half.
But rather than consolidating that comeback, they lapsed again into the unforced errors that have made a misery of their season. The Sharks scored tries in the 45th minute through captain Keegan Daniel and in the 49th through dangerous center Tim Whitehead to first regain the lead, then build a 29-20 advantage.
Though they had ample possession, the Blues were shut down by their own continued mistakes and by the smothering Sharks defence and made their only inroads into the Sharks’ lead with a late penalty.
The loss was their eighth in succession in matches against the Sharks.
The Blues next travel to Dunedin for a tough ninth-round match against the Otago Highlanders while the Sharks return home after winning two and losing two of their matches on a four-match swing through Australia and New Zealand.
“We’re very happy with the way things ended. We mixed our form on tour but to come to the home of rugby and come away with five points, we’re chuffed with that,” Daniel said.
“We had to defend for most of the first half and that’s probably been one of our downfalls over the last few weeks. I’m proud of the way the boys defended and we got four tries to take a bonus point so I’m happy with that.”