The Coastal Sharks became the first South African team to win on tour this season with a laboring 22-16 victory over the Melbourne Rebels to stay top of Super Rugby yesterday.
The Durban-based outfit scored their only try off a counterattack through Springbok winger J.P. Pietersen midway through the second half to hang on for victory.
The Rebels strung together 14 phases in stoppage-time to go after a game-clinching converted try, but the Sharks denied them with a turnover inside their quarter.
Jake White’s Sharks won their eighth match of the season and they will hang on to the competition lead with a five-point break over the ACT Brumbies, who are to play the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch today.
The Sharks were indebted to another flawless goalkicking performance from Springbok back Frans Steyn, with five penalties and a conversion from six attempts.
However, the Rebels stretched the Sharks’ defense and went into the final 10 minutes trailing by six points after replacement hooker Pat Leafa caught them unawares and scored wide out off a quick-tap penalty by flyhalf Bryce Hegarty.
It was a crucial win for the Sharks, who face a tough Australasian tour schedule against the Brumbies, the Crusaders and the Auckland Blues over the next three weeks.
The Sharks, with former World Cup-winning Springbok coach White in charge this season, stuttered last week against the Otago Highlanders after winning seven of their opening eight games.
“We’re happy with our first win on tour and our first win away from home,” Sharks skipper Bismarck du Plessis said.
“We were happy with some of the areas we played in, but we definitely were not happy with our one-on-one tackles and I thought that one decision was quite difficult for us,” he added. “But you’ve got to overcome them and we were fortunate to get that turnover near the end from Keegan Daniel.”
The Sharks missed 30 tackles and conceded 20 turnovers, three of them at the breakdown.
They are off to Canberra next weekend for their next match on tour against the Brumbies, while the Rebels, who gained a losing bonus point to move ahead of the Queensland Reds at the bottom of the Australian conference, take on the Wellington Hurricanes at home.
Meanwhile, the Auckland Blues demolished the Queensland Reds 44-14 to secure a bonus-point win and keep their playoff hopes alive at Eden Park yesterday.
The Blues scored five tries in a dominant performance, leading Queensland 34-0 early in the second half before the Australians added two converted tries to add some respectability to the scoreline.