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Sharks edge out Hurricanes
Pienaar's late penalty settles Wellington thriller
Ruan Pienaar landed a 48-metre penalty on the stroke of full-time to clinch a 29-26 victory for the Sharks over the Hurricanes in Wellington.
The visitors scored one try in each half through Patrick Lambie and JP Pietersen respectively, Pienaar converted both and kicked five penalties for a personal 19-point haul.
The Hurricanes scored two late tries through Ma'a Nonu and Victor Vito which Piri Weepu converted to level at 26-26 with just three minutes to go before Pienaar had the final say.
The Hurricanes have now lost four in a row in the Super 14 and have plenty of work ahead if they are to make the semi-finals.
The Sharks had all the possession and territory in the early stages and they made it count with rising star Lambie going over in the corner with just five minutes gone.
Willie Ripia reduced the deficit immediately with his first penalty but for the majority of the rest of the first spell the Hurricanes rarely made it out of their own half.
The Sharks lost Adrian Jacobs to a shoulder injury in the 10th minute but it did not unsettle them with half-back Pienaar and openside flanker Willem Alberts, in particular, running hard at the Hurricanes defence.
Wing Tamati Ellison was the most dangerous of the Hurricanes' backs with what limited ball he got, but his surging runs from deep got little reward as the final pass failed to stick and the Sharks were able to keep the pressure on.
The closest the home side came to a try in the first half was after a Cory Jane breakout from his own 22.
But prop Jacob Ellison, who was on as a bloodbin replacement for Neemia Tialata, lost the ball forward with the line begging.
The half finished with Ripia and Pienaar trading penalties and the Sharks went into the break 13-6 up.
Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper made a double change at the start of the second half bringing on Weepu and Aaron Cruden to try and bring some attacking bite to the Hurricanes back line.
Weepu's first action though was to bang over a penalty but Cruden was happy to take the defence on, which started to create space for the likes of Conrad Smith and Nonu.
Handling errors however continued to plague the Hurricanes with Andre Taylor the guilty man after Smith had ghosted through a gap down the left flank, then Rodney So'oialo knocked on after Cruden had broken clear and put Nonu away.
But for all the errors on attack, the Hurricanes defence was resolute. The Sharks rarely looked to change the angle of the runner and they were effectively shepherded sideways by the home side.
The Sharks extended their lead with another penalty to Pienaar in the 65th minute.
But from the restart the Sharks struck again with Pietersen going over for his team's second of the night.
The Hurricanes responded immediately though with Nonu barging over. Weepu's conversion got them back to within four points but it was short-lived as Pienaar fired over another three-pointer.
The Hurricanes were not finished and when Vito barrelled over late in the piece Weepu nailed the conversion to tie the scores only to see Pienaar kick the decisive score on the hooter.