A horror James O’Connor error allowed the Sharks to break a six-match Super Rugby losing streak with a 21-14 victory over the Queensland Reds on Friday night.
A week on from their thumping win over the Melbourne Rebels, the horrors returned for the embattled Reds, who were well in the hunt until O’Connor’s 69th-minute howler.
The former Wallabies winger completely miscued an attempted kick for touch from deep in Queensland’s in-goal area, instead picking out the chest of Sharks scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer, who was metres from the tryline and couldn’t believe his luck.
It was Ungerer’s second of the match and it blew the stuffing out of a Reds outfit that, while scrappy and error-prone once again, looked odds-on to sneak home in front of 20,899 fans.
Instead, the Durban-based Sharks have tasted victory for the first time since March, leaving Queensland head coach Richard Graham searching for answers.
Where last week they were energetic and inventive, the Reds were sluggish, fumbly and plagued by turnovers, spending most of the first half pinned back in defence as the fast-starting Sharks dialled up the pressure.
It eventually paid off for the South Africans after 17 minutes, when Ungerer attacked the blindside from the base of a solid Sharks scrum and flashed over the line for a converted try and a 10-0 lead to the visitors.
But Queensland struck back with a stunning try-of-the-year contender seven minutes later with a move that went through nine pairs of hands and almost the entire length of the field – the only passage of play on Friday night when their attack actually stuck.
It started with Samu Kerevi blasting through the Sharks line from the Reds’ defensive 22m line, continued as Kerevi recovered possession after JP Pietersen elbowed down an attempted Liam Gill flick pass, and finished with Chris Kuridrani scoring his first Super Rugby try in the left corner.
Kuridrani was unfortunate to be denied an earlier five-pointer by the video referee when he stepped over the touchline, but found himself in the right place at the right time on this occasion to give the under-pressure Adam Thomson and Will Genia an outlet after they nearly fluffed the opportunity.
Two Francois Steyn penalties before halftime gave the Sharks some breathing space at 16-7, but the Reds were in again early in the second stanza when Kerevi crashed through.
O’Connor added the extras to reduce the margin to just two points – but he looked like he wanted the Caxton Street end to swallow him up after his late disaster, which the Reds couldn’t recover from.