Phepsi Buthelezi scores for the Sharks. Steve Haag Sports/Steve Haag/INPHO

Ulster lose Billy Burns to injury as Richie Murphy's reign begins in Durban defeat

The Munster-bound out-half left the field with an apparent shoulder injury as Ulster fell 22-12 to the Springbok-infused Sharks.

Sharks 22

Ulster 12

Mike Greenaway reports from Hollywoodbets Kings Park Stadium

IT WAS NEVER going to be an easy day in Africa for the Ulstermen given that the Sharks were enriched with returning World Cup winners and, perhaps more significantly, they were fed up with their basement position in the URC table.

Until this game, the Durban team had won just one and lost 10 in the league and they have been ridiculed in South Africa for their disastrous return on one of the richest wage bills in rugby.

It was the first week in office for new Ulster coach Richie Murphy and there can be few tougher assignments than travelling long-haul to play a desperate team, freshly reinforced.

The Sharks’ returning Boks lifted spirits and it was some of their younger players, like the outstanding centre Ethan Hooker, who lit up the show.

A typical autumn north-easter blowing strongly across Durban was not good for the local surfers but kept the 31-degree heat tolerable.

The visitors had that wind at their back in the first half and their kicking strategy was wise, but Bok bruiser Eben Etzebeth made a nuisance of himself, twice stretching out his long arms to force charge-downs of scrum-half John Cooney’s kicks.

Another Springbok, Ulster’s Steven Kitshoff, was equally influential and stole a crucial turnover for his side when fellow World Cup winner Makazole Mapimpi was tackled in front of the Ulster posts.

From that possession, Ulster moved the ball upfield and in their first venture into the Sharks’ red zone, they worked slickly through the phases to propel flank Harry Sheridan over.

It was the ideal way for Ulster to end a first quarter in which they had mostly defended.

The Sharks responded with a spectacular 80m counter-attack of their own. When an Ulster attack broke down a few metres from the Sharks’ line, fullback Aphelele Fassi hoofed the ball down the centre of the field. Hooker chased the ball to within inches of the line, with Will Addison chasing back gingerly. The ball popped backwards out of the tackle for chasing flanker Phepsi Buthelezi to gather and score.

There was a let-off for Ulster minutes later when Bok hooker Bongi Mbonambi could not find his jumpers from a penalty kicked to the corner.

From the ensuing scrum near the posts, the Sharks won a scrum penalty but when they rumbled the ball toward the line they knocked on. Ulster were most grateful for the charity, with the half-time hooter sounding seconds later.

The game had barely restarted when Munster out-half Billy Burns went down with what appeared to be a bad-looking shoulder injury and was replaced by Nathan Doak.

The half grew worse for the visitors when the Sharks produced a bit of magic: the young Bok prop Ntuthuko Mchunu celebrated his 50th appearance with a bustling break and from there, left wing Mapimpi nudged the ball through the defence for right wing Eduan Keyter to score as the ball was about to go over the dead-ball line.

Out-half Masuku converted and a few minutes later added a penalty. Suddenly, the Sharks had a 10-point cushion at 17-7.

In a big moment in the game and a drop of good fortune for Ulster, the ball mysteriously squirted out of a ruck near the Sharks line and big lock Kieran Treadwell could not believe his luck. He picked up the ball and crashed over. The ref asked the TMO to investigate how the ball popped out but no crime appeared to have been committed and the try stood.

Importantly, Cooney missed the conversion to keep the Sharks four points in front.

The Sharks were cranking up the pressure as their Bomb Squad detonated and Ulster lost skipper Iain Henderson to the sin bin when he literally collared young lock Corne Rahl.

From the same pressure, Mbonambi wrestled over for the Sharks’ third try.

The final minutes were about bonus points — the Sharks were chasing the fourth try while Ulster had the carrot of finishing within seven. Neither effort was successful.

Sharks scorers:

Tries: Phepsi Buthelezi, Eduan Keyter, Bongi Mbonambi

Conversions: Siya Masuku (2)

Penalties: Siya Masuku

Ulster scorers:

Tries: Harry Sheridan, Kieran Treadwell

Conversion: John Cooney

Ulster: Will Addison, Ethan McIlroy, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Mike Lowry, Billy Burns [Nathan Doak. ‘42], John Cooney, Steven Kitshoff [Andrew Warwick ‘51], Tom Stewart, Tom O’Toole [Scott Wilson, ‘63], Kieran Treadwell, Iain Henderson, Harry Sheridan, David McCann, Nick Timoney

Replacements: John Andrew, Andrew Warwick, Scott Wilson, Cormac Izuchukwu, Matty Rea, Nathan Doak, Jude Postlethwaite, Sean Reffell

Sharks: Aphelele Fassi, Eduan Keyter, Lukhanyo Am, Ethan Hooker, Makazole Mapimpi, Siya Masuka, Jaden Hendrikse, Ntuthuko Mchunu [Ox Nche [52], Bongi Mbonambi, Hanro Jacobs [Vincent Koch ‘52], Eben Etzebeth [Corne Rahl. ‘62], Gerbrandt Grobler, Phepsi Buthelezi, Vincent Tshituka, George Cronje. [Jeandre Labuschagne ‘2]

Replacements: Kerron van Vuuren, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch, Corne Rahl, , Cameron Wright, Curwin Bosch, Francois Venter

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel