DURBAN – It wasn’t pretty from the Sharks but on a weekend of Super Rugby upsets, any means was justified if the result was victory, and it ultimately was an emphatic one for the beleaguered Durbanites over a dogged Rebels side.
It was a route one, crash and bash stuff from the Sharks, allied to gutsy defence as they focussed only on getting to the finish line, and to that end, it was mission accomplished.
The three-tries-to-two victory ended a despairing two-match losing streak for the Sharks and with the Bulls and Stormers both losing earlier in the day, the hard-earned win propelled Robert du Preez’s team up to second place on the SA Conference after they had started the weekend in fourth position, with the Lions topping the standings after they resoundingly beat the doomed Sunwolves in Singapore.
All week, the refrain from the Sharks camp was that they would ramp up their physicality after they had been bullied in the forwards by first the Stormers at Jonsson Kings Park and then the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld. At training last week there was a marked increase in intensity and that was transferred into the match situation from the first whistle.
In the opening ten minutes, the Sharks placed their cards on the table with wave after wave of direct, no-frills rugby, and there was an inevitability about No 8 Dan du Preez crashing over from close quarters for the opening score. And by the 15th minute, the Sharks were full value for a 10-0 lead after Rob du Preez had added a penalty.
But it is with good reason that the Rebels are top of the Aussie Conference and they scored a fine opening try after they spurned the lineout drive close to the Sharks’ line and spread the ball quality wide for wing Tom English to speed home in the corner.
Du Preez’s second penalty nudged the Sharks into a 13-7 lead before Rebels fullback Jack Maddocks silenced a fair-sized crowd with a burst through the middle that saw him round opposite number Aphelele Fassi for a try under the crossbar and a 14-13 lead for his team.
Du Preez claimed the half time lead for his side with his third penalty but it was tenuous lead after what had been a tense arm wrestle of a half.
And the uneasiness among the Sharks supporters increased as the visitors dominated the opening stages of the second half. The Sharks did nothing other than repel Rebels advances for a ten-minute period, and that stoic defence could well have won them the match, especially because when they broke the siege they scampered up field and immediately scored, with inspirational captain Louis Screuder finding Rob Du Preez unmarked in the corner with a sweeping pass.
More Sharks pressure gave excellent wing Makazole Mapimpi a run-in at the corner to give the Sharks breathing space at 28-14.
Scorers: Sharks 28 (16) Tries: Daniel du Preez, Robert du Preez, Makazole Mapimpi. Conversions: Robert du Preez (2) Penalties: Robert du Preez (3)
Rebels 14 (14) Tries: Tom English, Jack Maddocks. Conversions: Quade Cooper (2).