Sharks beat Rebels, but…

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The Sharks played the entire second half against 14 men after Rebels prop Laurie Weeks had been red-carded for punching, but despite this, they only outscored the visitors 15 points to 14 during the final 40 minutes.

Nevertheless, it signified back-to-back victories for the Durban side after they finally snapped a six-match losing streak last weekend, and while it was hardly a high-quality encounter, the result still allows them to retain hope of ending the season on a winning note.

Next week the Sharks can at least look forward to a long-awaited bye, and it’s clear they are desperately in need of a break, with an inordinate number of players currently on the injured list.

Before kick-off, the Sharks were forced into a couple of significant changes, with both Ryan Kankowski and Willem Alberts withdrawing from the line-up, forcing a loose-trio reshuffle that saw Renaldo Bothma shift to No8, Etienne Oosthuizen come in at No7 and Khaya Majola debut at openside flank.

Talismanic prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira then hobbled from the field after just 18 minutes before Odwa Ndungane was also ruled out of action some 10 minutes later.

Considering Stephan Lewies and Frans Steyn suffered season-ending injuries in the Sharks’ final tour game, and it ultimately painted a pretty grim picture for the injury-ravaged coastal outfit.

Having got the better of the early exchanges in what was a pedestrian start to the encounter, the Sharks eventually got some reward on the scoreboard when flyhalf Lionel Cronje slotted a penalty in the 17th minute.

Yet there was really very little to get excited about in that opening quarter, with basic errors, poorly directed kicks and inaccurate set-pieces making for an unappealing spectacle.

That frustration even seemed to bubble over on the field, with Jannie du Plessis unleashing a slap to the back of the head of his opposite number, Weeks responding by throwing three punches to the face of Du Plessis.

The horrible scuffle quite correctly saw Du Plessis shown a yellow card, while Weeks received a straight red, adding to the mire of the miserable opening half an hour.

In fact, during that first 30 minutes, there were no less than eight stoppages for one reason or another, and the sin-binning of Du Plessis would have brought back horrible memories of the Sharks’ disciplinary discretions before they headed on tour just over a month ago.

However, the one bright light for the Sharks during the opening half was young S’bura Sithole, who scored a sublime solo try five minutes before half-time, showing great strength to power over the try-line despite the attention of three Rebels defenders.

The visitors nearly hit straight back with one of their few forays into Sharks territory, and although the ball was held up over the line, the Rebels would score just before the break when skipper Scott Higginbotham shrugged off a poor attempted tackle to go over unopposed.

The fact that the first half dragged out to 55 minutes as a result of all the stops and starts aptly told the story of a dreary opening stanza, with the Sharks holding a tenuous 10-7 lead at the break.

That lead would be quickly extended, though, when Lwazi Mvovo snapped up a loose pass from Rebels replacement scrumhalf Nick Stirzaker and sprinted all of 80 metres to score in the corner just after the resumption of play.

And ironically, despite what had predominantly been a drab affair, replacement Heimar Williams then matched Sithole and Mvovo in scoring what was another outstanding solo try as he ghosted past four Rebels defenders to score a scintillating 40-metre try.

However, Higginbotham took advantage of some poor Sharks tackling again when he cantered over to score just before the hour mark, and Rebels replacement Bryce Hegarty then took further gloss over the scoreline with a late try. - Saturday Star

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