Not pretty but, hey, we won
TRUE to their word, the Sharks made a positive stride towards ending the season on a winning streak after beating the Rebels 25-21 in Durban last night.
A powerful performance from left wing S’bura Sithole inspired the home outfit as they delivered a clinical performance against the visitors, who played much of the game with 14 men. That was despite Rebels captain Scott Higgingbotham’s man-of-the-match performance — scoring two tries for the visitors.
The Sharks made two late changes as Willem Alberts and Ryan Kankowski were ruled out at the 11th hour. Khaya Majola made his Super Rugby debut, while Etienne Oosthuizen replaced the “Bone Collector” Alberts.
The match got off to a slow start as both teams tentatively looked for territorial dominance. The Sharks weren’t able to capitalise on some good field positions early on.
Flyhalf Lionel Cronjé broke the deadlock 15 minutes in. The pivot charged down a clearance kick and one of the Rebels players grabbed the ball in an offside position. The pivot slotted the penalty to give his side an early lead.
Good defence kept the visitors pinned in their own half, while the Sharks relished opportunities to counter-attack although they couldn’t quite finish off a number of promising moves.
The match descended into madness just before the half-hour mark. Jannie du Plessis received a yellow card for slapping Rebels tighthead Laurie Weeks in open play. The visitor responded in earnest, landing a number of punches on the Springbok and was shown a red card for his reaction.
The Sharks made use of the shift in momentum and S’bura Sithole powered his way over the line for the first try of the night. The wing took the ball up from a scrum inside the visitors’ 22 and was too strong for the Rebels defence. Cronjé added the extras to make it 10-0 with five minutes to go in the half.
The Rebels responded immediately, but flyhalf Jack Debreczeni was held up over the line after his side had turned over possession deep in Sharks territory.
Sustained pressure on attack saw the Rebels strike through Higginbotham, who brushed off Cronjé on the way to score the visitors’ first try. Debreczeni slotted the conversion making it 10-7 to the hosts at the break.
The Sharks struck early in the second half. Fullback Lwazi Mvovo read the Rebels play and a well-timed intercept saw the Springbok streak down the length of the field to score in the left hand corner. Cronjé’s conversion drifted wide, leaving a five-point gap between the sides.
Replacement centre Heimar Williams scored the Sharks third try with a wonderful individual run. The inside centre caught the ball on the halfway line and stepped a number of Rebels players before showing a clean pair of heals to get over the line. Cronjé made up for his earlier miss, adding the extras.
The Sharks were caught napping on defence on the hour mark. Higginbotham ran a great line to pierce through the Sharks line. The speedy eighthman backed his pace and scored under the posts — making for an easy Debreczini conversion.
Cronjé kicked a penalty with eight minutes to go but the visitors soon hit back with a third try. An exciting passage of attacking play from the Sharks ended and the Rebels went on the counter attack from deep in their half. A couple of neat passes saw replacement Bryce Hegarty score — while Debreczeni tap the conversion over.
JP Pietersen nearly scored chasing down a grubber from Cronjé, but the Sharks outside centre knocked the ball on while sliding over the line.
The Sharks held on for their second consecutive win.
Sharks 25 (10) Tries: S’bura Sithole, Lwazi Mvovo, Heimar Williams. Penalties: Cronje (2) Conversions: Cronje (2)
Rebels 21 (7) Tries: Scott Higginbotham (2), Bryce Hegarty.. Penalties: Conversions: Jack Debreczeni (3)