The Queensland Reds are licking their wounds and losing ground on their Australian Super Rugby conference rivals after a 33-23 loss to the Sharks which captain Liam Wright described as "un-Queensland footy".
The Reds missed two conversions and had two tries disallowed that could've swayed the contest in a result that halted any momentum gained from last weekend's record-breaking win over the Sunwolves.
James O'Connor could miss time with a minor ankle injury after his night was cut short, but more concerning was the Reds' fragile line-out and a weakening scrum that let the Sharks off the hook in a dominant first half.
Wright labelled his side's set piece struggles "un-Queensland" when interviewed immediately after play, while coach Brad Thorn conceded they were upstaged after last weekend's record-breaking defeat of the Sunwolves.
"It was a long way removed from our previous weekend," Thorn said.
"We had plenty of opportunities but weren't executing and they built into that business end of the game."
The Reds coughed up four line-outs and a scrum in prime field position in the first half, while O'Connor's try after the half-time buzzer was called back because of a slight forward pass.
That left the hosts up 11-8 at the break despite a 9-3 penalty count in their favour and almost 70 per cent of the ball.
Teams then traded tries, Tate McDermott darting over for the fourth successive game to hand the Reds back the lead after Dylan Richardson had crossed.
Sharks No.10 Curwin Bosch then nailed two long-range penalties and, up by just five points, Sharks captain Lukhanyo Am picked off Hunter Paisami's short pass and ran 60 metres untroubled.
Madosh Tambwe sealed it with another long-range try, before the Reds free-wheeled after the full-time hooter in a bizarre sequence that finished with a consolation try to Ed Craig and a Sharks yellow-card in the 88th minute.
"It could've been way worse than that (for us at half time); fortunately the Reds didn't score that try on half-time, I think that was quite significant in the game," Sharks coach Sean Everitt said.
It was the Durban-based side's third win to close their four-game tour of Australia and New Zealand, and a costly loss for the Reds (1-4) after wins to conference rivals Melbourne Rebels (2-3) and NSW Waratahs (1-3) earlier in the round.
The Brumbies (3-1), who had a bye this weekend, remain on top of the Australian conference with 13 points, five clear of the Reds ahead of their trip to play the Crusaders on Friday.
Australian Associated Press