Missing injured skipper Dane Haylett-Petty and three rested Wallabies, including in-form halfback Will Genia, the Rebels produced a roller-coaster performance.
They scored two excellent first-half tries through winger Tom English and fullback Jack Maddocks, assisted by the mercurial Quade Cooper, but failed to add to their score after halftime on the back of 21 handling errors to the Sharks’ three. It is the second time in two weeks the Rebels have blown a halftime lead on their tour of South Africa.
— stephan (@5t3phan525) March 23, 2019
Don’t care what anyone says @QuadeCooper is a genius….
— Bryan Pietersen (@bryangp1) March 23, 2019
— Marvyn Joyce (@marvy_j8yce) March 23, 2019
After blowing a big lead against the Lions in Johannesburg last round, the Rebels were desperate to make amends but again their discipline proved costly with Sharks five-eighth Robert du Preez slotting three penalty goals to help set up the win.
Stand-in skipper Angus Cottrell, who was one of his team’s best, said his team didn’t treasure the ball.
“It was very disappointing,” said Cottrell.
“We had a goal to win one of these games on the road and we didn’t achieve that.”
They managed to peg back an early 10-0 lead when Rebels five-eighth Quade Cooper spotted the Sharks defence short off a line-out and sent a long, floating pass to English for his 20th-minute try.
Cooper then found Maddocks, who showed impressive footwork to slice his way through the defence to score, with Cooper adding the extras to give his team the lead for the only time in the match 14-13.
But it was short-lived with a penalty kick by du Preez putting his team back in front after an infringement at the breakdown.
He missed another one right at halftime, with the home side taking a 16-14 lead into the sheds.
While Melbourne improved their discipline in the second half, their handling continued to prove troublesome and stalled their attempt to get back into the match.
A try to du Preez and then a 50-metre run-away effort from winger Makazole Mapimpi put the game out of reach and meant the Rebels left Durban empty-handed.
Their second successive loss meant they surrendered top spot in the Australian conference to the Waratahs, who upset the Crusaders.
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