Sharks battle past Rebels

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30 May 2015
Sharks battle past Rebels

The Sharks edged past the 14-man Rebels 25-21 putting an end to their slim Super Rugby play-off hopes in the process.

A moment of madness from Laurie Weeks, who threw a series of punches to the face of Jannie du Plessis, saw the Wallaby red-carded late in the first half and the Rebels never really recovered.

S'bura Sithole, Lwazi Mvovo and Heimar Williams made the most of the extra space with tries but the Sharks struggled to break free on their way to making it two wins in a row after last week's success over the Reds.

A try in each half from Scott Higginbotham kept the Rebels in touch, with Bryce Hegarty's late try setting up a grandstand finish in what was a poor quality encounter.

But despite battling hard, the Rebels couldn't find a way over and had to settle for a losing bonus point, which now ends any hopes they had of reaching the Finals Series.

The Sharks had been dealt a late blow when Ryan Kankowski failed a late fitness test, with Willem Alberts also ruled out. As a result, Khaya Majola came into the starting lineup for his first Super Rugby appearance.

It didn't seem to affect them early though, and while they struggled to turn early dominance into points, they did score break the deadlock with a Lionel Cronje penalty.

They lost Tendai Mtawarira to injury however after he'd limped through most of the opening quarter but the defining moment of the game came just before the half-hour when Weeks completely lost his head.

It started when he and Jannie du Plessis were chasing an up and under, and after the Sharks tighthead felt he had been impeded, he cuffed Weeks around the back of the head. His Rebels counterpart responded with a flurry of punches and was inevitably red-carded. Du Plessis was sin-binned for instigating the scuffle.

With both teams down to 14 for 10 minutes, it was the Sharks who scored the first try of the game, with Sithole taking advantage of a good Sharks scrum to slice through in midfiled, having already looked dangerous with ball in hand.

Trailing 10-0, the Rebels needed a reaction before finding themselves at a numerical disadvantage but they looked to have blown it when Sefanaia Naivalu, playing at 13, knocked on with the line at his mercy.

It didn't matter though, as they came back for an advantage and a couple of phases later Higginbotham powered through a Cronje tackle for his fourth Super Rugby try of the campaign.

That was how it stayed until the break but the Rebels shot themselves in the foot on the return from the dressing room. Having got up to the Sharks 22, Nic Stirzaker's long pass was easily read by Mvovo, who was never going to be caught after picking it off.

The floodgates looked to be open, and Williams was next to cross, stepping his way through in midfield before cutting inside the final man to cross. With Cronje's conversion, the home side led 22-7.

The Rebels looked prime for a hiding, but they showed spirit to keep fighting and after a lovely delayed pass from Paul Alo-Emile, Higginbotham strolled through a huge gap in midfield and had the pace and footwork to go over from 30 metres out.

Leading by eight, the Sharks extended their advantage with another Cronje penalty, but the Rebels refused to lie down and Hegarty went over from long-range after a wonderful counter-attack.

That set up a late charge from the visitors, but they couldn't create another chance as the Sharks held on to claim victory.