The Cell C Sharks inflicted a second successive South African defeat on the traveling Rebels in a tight Vodacom Super Rugby clash at Jonsson KINGS PARK on Saturday, coming out 28-14 victors in a tense but enjoyable match.
Like last week, the Rebels were made to pay for their indiscipline as regular penalties kept breaking any momentum they tried to build and the pressure we exerted on the visitors paid frequent dividends. That and a high error rate broke any momentum the Australians might have built.
It was a great start for the Cell C Sharks who kicked off and after the Rebels tried unsuccessfully to get out of their danger zone, we hammered away at their defence, earned a couple of penalties that were kicked to touch and eventually Dan du Preez was just too difficult to stop from close quarters as he smashed his way over, his brother Robert adding the two inside the opening 10 minutes.
Pressure on the Rebels saw them fluff their lines a couple of times to stymie their efforts and then a dominant scrum allowed the cell C Sharks to capitalise on the pressure we were exerting for a kickable scrum penalty, this time sent through the posts for three points for a 10-nil lead as the game approached the end of the first quarter.
Sadly the Rebels cantered in for a soft try after capitalising on an unnecessary penalty which they kicked to touch and somehow found numbers out wide for a simple run-in that flyhalf Quade Cooper was able to convert to reduce the deficit to three points.
With the game headed for the half hour mark, du Preez added a second three-pointer after the Rebels were penalised defending their goal line, but once again they found themselves in possession and managed a well-crafted, converted try with some deft passes that allowed the visitors to take the lead for the first time in the match.
The seventh penalty conceded by the Rebels (to our two) allowed du Preez to take us back into the lead as he maintained his 100% record with the boot with half-time beckoning and another two penalties later (their ninth) saw the visitors almost further punished for their indiscipline but for the conversion attempt narrowly going wide in the final play of the half, allowing us to go into the changerooms with a 16-14 lead.
The Rebels started the second half with fire in their bellies, intent on producing something to take reward from, but despite camping in our 22, our defence was resolute, waiting for the mistake which eventually came and we were able to release the pressure.
Action went to the other side of the field but we were way more composed and deadly, the Rebels having no counter as the defence got sucked into the middle and a long pass found Robert du Preez unmarked as he was able to score without a defender near him. His conversion took us into a 23-14 lead with less than half an hour’s play remaining.
With the Rebels under the cosh, the third Cell C Sharks try was inevitable as we pushed hard, failed initially but then pressured them into conceding the try that took us further ahead, a solid scrum and a great set move for Andre Esterhuizen to suck in the defence before feeding a flying Makazole Mapimpi who was over in the corner.
The stats were telling. The Rebels had a poorer tackle completion rate and gave away many more penalties while their ball handling was unconvincing and detrimental to their hopes.
The game went through a lull as both sides struggled with the slippery ball, the Durban humidity playing its part, but the Rebels were truly battling to hold on and gifted an opportunity that would have been a wonderful try for Mapimpi, only for the referee to call play back to a dangerous tackle that earned Marius Louw a yellow card.
Down to 14 men with a little over five minutes of the match remaining meant there would be pressure on the Cell C Sharks but the visitors too had a huge hurdle to overcome. But the handling error count was mounting, 21 from the Rebels to the Cell C Sharks five, the home side clearly enjoying the advantage of home town conditions.
Ultimately it was a commanding performance, a clinical one that has breathed life into our Vodacom Super Rugby campaign and an important response at this important juncture.