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Murphy era at Ulster is off to losing start as Sharks finally bite

By PA
Sharks' Jaden Hendrikse tackles Ulster's Steven Kitshoff (Photo by Shaun Roy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The Richie Murphy era at Ulster has got off to a losing start with their United Rugby Championship play-off bid taking a dent when beaten 22-12 by the struggling Sharks in Durban.

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It was the Sharks’ first league win since November as they climbed off the URC basement thanks to tries from flanker Phepsi Buthelezi, wing Eduan Keyter and hooker Bongi Mbonambi.

Siya Masuku landed two conversions and a penalty as the temperature nudged 30 degrees at Kings Park while Harry Sheridan and Kieran Treadwell claimed touchdowns for Ulster, with John Cooney kicking one conversion.

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But even a losing bonus point eluded interim head coach Murphy in his first game at the helm following Dan McFarland’s departure, with Ulster temporarily going down to 13 players during the final quarter after captain Iain Henderson and centre James Hume were yellow-carded.

The Sharks were dealt an injury blow after just two minutes when number eight George Cronje suffered what appeared to be a serious knee problem and was carried off.

Fixture
United Rugby Championship
Sharks
22 - 12
Full-time
Ulster
All Stats and Data

It took both teams time to settle after a lengthy stoppage but a scrappy opening quarter ended with Ulster going ahead. Treadwell made initial headway, charging to within touching distance of the line, before Sheridan finished off and Cooney’s conversion opened up a seven-point lead.

The Sharks, despite welcoming back Springboks Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am and Eben Etzebeth to their starting line-up, struggled for fluency before they conjured an equalising try out of nothing 13 minutes before half-time.

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Ulster were on the attack but they lost possession and Sharks full-back Aphelele Fassi cleared from his own 22, centre Ethan Hooker showed blistering pace to keep the chance alive and Buthelezi touched down, with Masuku adding the extras.

Ulster lost fly-half Billy Burns to a shoulder injury early in the second period and the visitors went behind to a well-worked Sharks try just four minutes later.

Sharp inter-play between forwards and backs ended with Mapimpi putting a kick in behind Ulster’s defensive line and Keyter finished brilliantly, with Masuku’s conversion making it 14-7.

Masuku then kicked a penalty but Treadwell’s score put Ulster back in contention approaching the hour mark before Mbonambi struck after referee Ben Whitehouse punished Henderson for a high tackle and Hume following a dust-up with Sharks flanker Vincent Tshituka, who was also yellow-carded.

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