Garth April showers Highlanders with penalties as Sharks clinch narrow Super Rugby win
Fly-half kicks five-from-five to deliver victory for Durban-based outfit, while Rebels storm home in 36-14 thrashing of Cheetahs
Fly-half Garth April kicked five penalties from five attempts to give the Durban-based Sharks a 15-14 win over the Highlanders on Friday in one of the most contentious matches of the Super Rugby season.
In Melbourne, outside centre Reece Hodge scored a try in each half as the Rebels stormed to a 36-14 win over Cheetahs.
The defending champion Highlanders played the majority of the match with 14 men after losing centre Jason Emery to a red card in the 13th minute for a reckless tackle on Sharks fullback Willie le Roux.
“After last week’s disappointing loss to the Blues, the boys really deserved this one,” Sharks captain Tendai Mtawarira said. “We’ve really been working hard and I think we stuck to our task today and came through.”
The Sharks lost two players – lock Stephan Lewies and center J.P. Pietersen to yellow cards – in a match marked by errors and fouls in Dunedin.
The Highlanders led 14-12 after winger Matt Faddes scored the only try of the match in the 58th minute, but April’s fifth penalty reclaimed the lead for the Sharks.
The 24-year-old April made his starting debut for the Sharks on Friday after establishing himself at Gauteng, Boland and Western Province in South Africa’s Currie Cup competition.
The win injected new life into the Sharks’ flagging campaign and severely damaged the Highlanders’ title defence, dealing them their second-straight loss on either side of a mid-season bye.
The Sharks were able to stay in contention through dogged defence and despite the sin-binning of Lewies immediately before half-time and Pietersen in the second half.
Friday’s defeat, after a loss to the last-place Queensland Reds, is likely to end the Highlanders’ title defence.
“It was a tough game,” Highlanders captain Ben Smith said. “I thought we defended pretty well. We had plenty of energy but we just got beaten by a better team at the end of the night.”
After being down 10-14 at half-time, the Rebels scored 26 unanswered points in the second period to move to the top of the Australian conference, one point ahead of the ACT Brumbies, who play the Crusaders in Canberra on Sunday.
“It’s good to get the win but it was a bit of a scrappy affair,” Rebels captain Nic Stirzaker said.
“But hats off to the boys, we toughed it out for 80 minutes.”
Stirzaker said the Cheetahs had put enormous pressure on the Melbourne side, particularly through the forward pack.
“They’ve got a really good set piece and they put us under a lot of pressure at scrum and line-out time,” he said.
“They threw a lot at us so I’m pretty proud of the defence, and it’s good to get the bonus point.”
Hodge, who has played a number of backline positions in his debut season of Super Rugby, was called in for his first start at number 13 to replace the injured Mitch Inman.
The rangy Hodge used his speed and deception to full advantage, both his tries coming after scything runs through the Cheetahs defence.
Tries by Torsten van Jaarsveld and Clayton Blommetjies gave the Cheetahs an unexpected lead at half-time, but lock Lopeti Timani sparked the Rebels’ comeback with a try 30 seconds after the break.
Centre Tamati Ellison clinched the bonus point for the Rebels with a try just before full-time.