Number eight Ryan Kankowski and Meyer Bosman scored late tries to snatch a 34-32 win for the Sharks over the Melbourne Rebels on Friday, maintaining the South African team’s unbeaten start in Super 15 rugby.
The Sharks, who hadn’t conceded a try in three previous games, gave up four to the gutsy competition newcomers but scored four of their own, rallying from 25-13 down to post their fourth win from as many games.
Former England flyhalf Danny Cipriani scored a try and kicked five goals in a 17-point contribution which almost claimed the match for Melbourne. But after looking in danger of giving up their unbeaten record, the Sharks hit the front four minutes from fulltime and held out a strong Melbourne finish to win narrowly.
Cipriani’s brilliant solo try in the first minute of the second-half briefly seemed a game breaker for Melbourne, which had rallied from 13-3 down to lead 18-13 at half-time.
When he added the conversion, Cipriani gave Melbourne a 25-13 lead and their defensive effort frustrated the Sharks, even when they were reduced to 14 men by the sin-binning of winger Cooper Vuna.
But winger Lwazi Mvovo scored a 44th-minute try for the Sharks which narrowed the margin to five points and Springboks back-rower Kankowski gave the visitors their first lead in 38 minutes when he turned relentless pressure into a 70th-minute try.
Patrick Lambie’s conversion of Kankowski’s try gave the Sharks a 27-25 lead and they made the game safe with a try to centre Bosman from a Rebels handling error six minutes later. Lambie again converted and the Sharks took a 34-25 lead into the dying minutes of the match.
The try proved critical, not only giving the Sharks a four-try bonus point but allowing them to weather a late threat as the home team scored a minute before full-time through replacement Jarrod Saffy.
The Sharks took a full five points from the match, maintaining their championship lead, while the Rebels took two points for their four tries and a loss by less than seven points.
“It has been a great start but we have to keep our feet on the ground, there’s still a long way to go,” Sharks captain John Smit said.
“We showed some real grit tonight, perhaps didn’t come out of the blocks fast enough but we knew the [Rebels] have some great individuals and at some stage when they come together as a team I think it’s going to be happening for them.”
The Sharks scored the first try of the match through Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis after 15 minutes and the failsafe kicking of flyhalf Lambie put them ahead 13-3 after 25 minutes.
The Rebels struck back with a 32nd-minute try to Vuna, then another to Wallabies midfielder Julian Huxley in the 38th minute which gave them a five-point lead at half-time.
Cipriani’s outstanding try in the 41st minute, as he dummied then broke the defensive line from a lineout near halfway, gave Melbourne a 12-point buffer but that defrayed with Mvovo’s try and evaporated when Kankowski scored.
Bosman pounced on an error in a rattled Melbourne defence to score in the 76th and his try proved vital as the Rebels hit back with their fourth try before the final siren.
“We set ourselves a goal of being competitive and I think we can hold our heads high after that performance tonight,” Rebels captain Stirling Mortlock said.
“Unfortunately, you’ve got 22 guys who are pretty disappointed because I think we did everything. It was a solid effort and we could have come away with a win there over a good team.” — Sapa-AP