Sharks vs Rebels: Five things we learned

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Rebels will come back to Australia without a win in South Africa after a defeat in Durban.

What are we talking about after the 28-14 loss?

1. Rebels left with something to prove

Another year and another winless tour of South Africa for the Rebels. It will be last week’s Johannesburg loss that will burn the most but Melbourne had their chances to win in Durban as well.

Missing four capped Wallabies and last year’s development player Isi Naisarani, the Rebels were certainly understrength but they didn’t look off the pace.

Two sharp first half tries and some strong lineout defence showed how deep their talent runs and kept them in the game at the break. 

Again, though, they lost their spark in the second half and the Sharks were able to keep them at arm’s length.

Second-half fadeouts were a major problem for the Rebels in 2018 and they  need to show that trend is not repeating this season or they will be battling for a finals spot.

They will welcome back those Wallabies next week, bar Dane Haylett-Petty, and will only be travelling to Queensland 

Melbourne will return to Australia now with a 3-2 record ahead of that crunch derby and they have a chance to make a statement against an Australian rival.

2. Dropping the ball in Durban

Melbourne were their own worst enemy at times in Durban, racking up 26 handling errors over the 80 minutes.

It’s hard enough to beat South African sides in South Africa without coughing up the ball and the Rebels did themselves no favours in that area.

Stand-in captain Angus Cottrell admitted post-match that they didn’t treasure the ball and a scoreless second half tells part of that story as well.

When the Rebels hang onto the ball, they look near-unstoppable at times, and a slick first-half Tom English try showed that, but the challenge is to ensure they can do that in any conditoins.

Dewy conditions didn't help their cause in Durban but no team can afford to give away the ball that much and with a trip to tropical Queensland next week, they can likely expect a simlar environment in round seven.

3. Cottrell steps up

Angus Cottrell has had a stuttering start to the season with injury but the no. 8 produced one of his best games against the Sharks.

Cottrell embraced the extra weight of captaincy in the absence of usual skipper Dane Haylett-Petty and set the physical tone for his side in Durban.

Cottrell won some key turnovers and was instrumental in giving the Rebels go-forward.

Australia has a glut of talented backrowers but if Cottrell continues to put together performances like that, he would surely move up the pecking order.

The 28-year-old has been in the national mix in recent times, though his opportunities have often been hindered by injuries, but if he stays fit he is surely a contender.

4. Set piece shines

The Rebels’ backline, even without some of its key Wallabies, often takes the spotlight but the side’s forwards laid the platform again in Durban.

They disrupted the Sharks lineout, especially in the first half, and often had the edge at scrum time as well.

Matt Philip and Luke Jones continued their run of strong form, both industrious in attack and defence and keeping the set piece firing.

They couldn’t quite maintain their dominance in that area as the game went on but it still remained a solid platform for them to generate momentum.

5. Discipline back to the pack

All eyes were on the Rebels’ penalty count after a 20-1 tally in Johannesburg and they showed on Sunday morning that last week’s lopsided finish was an anomaly.

The Rebels gave away nine penalties in the first half against the Sharks but managed to rein that in come the second 40.

Those infringements still proved ultimately costly, against a team boasting Robert du Preez, who had nine points off his boot from penalties, but that they were able to change the picture as the game went on is a big tick.