DURBAN – In what was an utterly forgettable 80 minutes of Super Rugby, the Melbourne Rebels denied the 14-man Sharks victory at the final hooter as fullback Reece Hodge kicked a penalty to secure a 9-9 draw at Kings Park on Saturday night.
In a match that never quite got going, the Australian outfit led 6-3 at halftime, and didn’t score any points until the final seconds when Hodge slotted a pressure-cooker goal-kick to claim two log points for the Rebels.
Referee Marius van der Westhuizen’s whistle dominated proceedings as both teams battled to hold on to the ball in the greasy Durban conditions, and made a number of handling errors.
The Sharks were disrupted just before kickoff when right wing Kobus van Wyk was withdrawn after picking up a calf injury during the warm-up, which saw outside centre Lukhanyo Am move to No 14, and youngster Jeremy Ward coming in at No 13.
The shift in personnel resulted in a lack of rhythm in the Sharks’ attacking play as they struggled to play with any real urgency.
Rebels captain and scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker was yellow-carded in the fourth minute for a deliberate knock-down, but the home side were unable to take advantage of the extra man.
In fact it was Hodge who put the Rebels into a 3-0 lead with an eighth-minute penalty.
Then disaster struck for the Sharks 10 minutes later when inside centre André Esterhuizen was given a straight red card for a dangerous tackle on Rebels right wing Sefa Naivalu.
Esterhuizen lifted Naivalu into the air and then brought him down head-first into the ground, and referee Van der Westhuizen said he had “no choice” but to issue a red card.
Flyhalf Curwin Bosch missed a penalty attempt at goal soon afterwards, but eventually put the Sharks on the board with a three-pointer.
But Hodge put the Rebels 6-3 up on the half-hour mark, and it is a lead that they held on to until the 64th minute, when Bosch slotted a crucial kick to level the scores.
The Rebels lost hooker James Hanson to a yellow card in the 53rd minute for collapsing a Sharks maul, and it appeared as if the hosts scored a try from another maul seconds later, with scrumhalf Cobus Reinach darting over.
But assistant referee Stuart Berry spotted potential foul play in the maul, and TV replays showed that Sharks lock Ruan Botha had his arm around the neck of a Rebels player, and the try was disallowed.
Stirzaker received a second yellow card with 11 minutes to go for a second deliberate knock-down, and the Sharks took the lead for the first time in the match when Bosch booted over a three-pointer to establish a 9-6 advantage with two minutes to go.
The Durbanites tried to play out time, but were penalised for going off their feet at a ruck, and Hodge stepped up to ensure that the Rebels had a share of the spoils.
Sharks 9: Penalties: Curwin Bosch (3).
Rebels 9: Penalties: Reece Hodge (3).
African News Agency (ANA)