The Sharks went down 22-12 to the Force in Perth on Friday, shooting themselves in the foot with a flurry of terrible decisions on attack, as well as inaccurate passing. The Force move to second on the log.
The home side capitalised on a dismal Sharks performance, Giteau putting the points away as the Sharks' errors mounted. Many of the Sharks stars were simply anonymous, with Francois Steyn and John Smit completely out of touch.
The Force deserved it, not just because they scored the only try of the match, and not even because they created more and better opportunities, not just because they handled better, not just because they had more ball and more territory but because they were far, far more sensible. They did ordinary rugby things so much better than the Sharks whose rugby lacked logic.
In the madness of the first half, they ran on defence and kicked on attack. When there was no way through they ran at then opposition when there was a chance to pass they chipped. Passes were anything but normal. When there was a chance of a gap or an overlap the long pass eliminated any advantage. They had a perverse relation ship with the touchline. Near it they tried to pass and got shoved out, and twice they failed to kick penalties into touch. And so on.
The second half was all right for a while and then suicide broke out. The Sharks conceded seven successive penalties for one thing. They were penalised three times in the first half, nine times in the second, And they got two yellow cards to reduce their dying minutes to be played by 13 men. Warren Britz was first in the sin bin for going grossly in at the side when the Force were attacking and then Rory Kockott, lying on the ground at a tackle ruck knocked the ball in a deliberate slap-down. The Sharks became toothless because they spat their own teeth out.
The game was played at speed and it suited the Force who were cleverer. Giteau opened the scoring with penalties, one against Jacques Botes for holding on and one against Bob Skinstad for being off-side.
Their try came when François Steyn ran at a brick wall and lost the ball in the crash. The Force grabbed it with glee and attacked. Matt Giteau broke incisively and eventually Cameron Shepherd had an east run to the line for the only try of the match. Giteau converted. The Force led 13-0 after 33 minutes.
Pienaar, who had missed two kicks at goal, then goaled two penalties, the first against James Hilgendorf for going in at the side and the second when the Force collapsed a goodly maul by the Force.
That made the score at the break 13-6, which did not do the Force justice.
The Sharks had a bright period of hope in the second half as they started it looking to play down in Force land. First Pienaar goaled a third penalty and then Steyn hoofed a dropped goal some 53 metres to make the score 13-12.
But then penalties did for the Sharks. After Giteau had bounced an easy one off the woodwork he goaled one when the Sharks were marched 10 metres for dissent. Then he goaled another when Ryan Kankowski tackled Matt Henjak high.. 19-12.
Britz then went in at the side and off the field, which Giteau punished further with a penalty to make it 22-12. After Kockott went off, Giteau had a chance to take it even further but missed a straightforward kick.
The Sharks to their credit played with their best zest when down to 13 men and actually got close to the Force line with a strong passage of pick-'n-drive, but eventually that fizzled out, the whistle went and Perth celebrated.
Man of the Match: Three players probably provide the strongest candidature - lock Rudi Vedelago who was great in the line-outs and the tight loose, exciting Drew Mitchell who may well have had his best performance in this year's Super 14 and our Man of the Match Matt Giteau who added verve, skill and direction to everything he did.
For the Force:
Pens: Giteau 5
For the Sharks:
Pens: Pienaar 3
Drop goal: Steyn
Yellow cards: Britz (Sharks, 69 minutes, deliberate offsides), Kockott (Sharks, 76 minutes, deliberate knock-down)
Western Force: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Digby Ioane, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Cameron Shepherd, 10 James Hilgendorf, 9 Matt Henjak, 8 Scott Fava, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Rudi Vedelago, 3 Troy Takiari, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Gareth Hardy.
Replacements: 16 Brendan Cannon, 17 Angus Scott, 18 Luke Doherty, 19 David Pocock, 20 Chris O'Young, 21 Junior Pelesasa, 22 Haig Sare
Sharks: 15 Francois Steyn, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Grant Rees, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Butch James, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Bobby Skinstad, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 AJ Venter, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit, 1 Deon Carstens
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Warren Britz, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Adrian Jacobs
Referee: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand), Dan Cheever (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)
Assessor: Ian Scotney (Australia), Lusanda Menze (South Africa)