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Super Rugby: Sharks shut down Blues in Auckland
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Table-topping Sharks shut down the Blues with a 23-29 win at North Harbour Stadium on Friday to increase their lead at the top.
Tries from skipper Bismarck du Plessis and scrum-half Cobus Reinach, plus 16 points from the boot of Francois Steyn kept the visitors ahead on the scoreboard despite two yellow cards, but it was their resolute defence that won them a 10th straight victory over the Blues.
A 40-metre penalty in the third minute was knocked over by Steyn as the Blues infringed at the ruck, Hickey drawing the hosts level shortly after.
A series of Sharks drives then led to S'bura Sithole breaking a few tackles before being stopped two metres short. Bismarck du Plessis was not going to be stopped so close to the line as he bundled over for the first try of that game.
A missed attempt from Hickey was made up for a few minutes later as he landed his third strike, the Blues holding on in the game at 6-10.
The New Zealand side dominated possession early on but could not make it count in the opposition's 22, with the Sharks defence holding firm.
Steyn gave the Sharks a 10-point lead at the break with another penalty and opportunist drop-goal from 30 metres out.
Jannie du Plessis was sent to the sin-bin early in the second half and returning captain Luke Braid made the extra man count. Driving over after the Blues dominated the Sharks seven man scrum.
The Blues continued the pressure on the depleted Sharks, but vital mistakes in attacking positions meant they could not make it count. Steyn made them rue their mistakes with another penalty shortly before Jannie du Plessis returned.
Ihaia West replaced Hickey in a bid to open the game up, but it was to no avail for the Blues as mistakes continued to creep in when in promising positions.
The Sharks continued to apply pressure at the breakdown, forcing the ball to spill loose. Hooker Bismarck du Plessis hacked on with Reinach beating Lolagi Visinia to the ball and diving over for the Sharks second try. Making the score 26-16 to the visitors heading into the final quarter.
The Blues looked promising in attack and had a big opportunity to get back in the game when Steyn was sin-binned for killing the ball at a ruck in his own 22.
New fly-half West struggled with the Sharks line speed from the resulting penalty and threw a poor pass to Pita Ahki. Suddenly the Blues were on the back foot behind their own five-metre line after a good clearance from the South African side.
Ma'a Nonu sent Tevita Li over in the corner with a pass that looked forward but was not given to bring the Blues back in contention.
The Blues had possession in their own half but gave away a mindless penalty with SP Marais slotting the kick as Steyn returned from the bin.
West's second penalty brought the Blues back within seven points with eight minutes left, but the Sharks defence proved to be too strong for the Blues, despite a late push.
The win means the Sharks hold onto their position at the top of the conference while the Blues slip further away from a play-off place, despite this being their first loss at home this campaign.