Record Rebels bounce back to thrash Sharks

What a difference a week makes. Just six days earlier, the Rebels returned from Sydney licking their wounds after a 51-27 reality check at the hands of the Waratahs. But this performance to register their fourth win in five matches, a record margin of 46-14 over a largely benign Sharks, proved that the renaissance taking place in Melbourne is not going to be derailed by one bad day at the office.

Setting a fierce pace from the start, they should have been out of sight by the break, tries to Anaru Rangi and Amanaki Mafi scant reward for their first half dominance. But they didn’t take their foot off the throat in the second stanza, running in four more as their speed of thought and accuracy of execution proved to much for a fading Sharks side to handle.

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The home side showed their intent from the off, run-on debutant Geoff Parling taking the kick-off and kickstarting a dazzling surge upfield through the hands of Will Genia, Tetera Faulkner, Jack Debreczeni, Bill Meakes and Marika Koroibete, before a penalty for offside allowed Reece Hodge to open the scoring and become the Rebels all-time leading points-scorer in the process.

The Sharks missed an opportunity to level matters eight minutes in when flyhalf Robert du Preez’ penalty drifted wide of the uprights. But any score from the visitor’s would have been very much against the run of play as the Rebels high-octane approach continued to keep them on the back-foot, and it was no surprise when they found themselves behind the posts again a few minutes later.

It was the forwards doing the hard yards for the Rebels this time with a textbook maul driven off a lineout, and when the Sharks splintered, hooker Anaru Rangi was in position to punch through the gap and find the line. Hodge added the extras for a 10-0 lead, and with 78% possession and the Sharks yet to make their way into their opponent’s 22, things were looking ominous for the visitor’s.

That feeling wouldn’t have been helped when Sefanaia Naivalu dotted down in the opposite corner on 14 minutes, only for the referee and TMO to scratch the try from the record books. Billy Meakes – causing havoc at inside centre with his pop passes, direct running and game vision, was the fulcrum of the move – linking superbly with Debreczeni in a wraparound play that sent the wiry no.10 through the line before firing it wide for Naivalu to do what he does best.

Bill Meakes_Rebels v Sharks_2018

Bill Meakes had a superb run-on debut for the Rebels

But it was decided that Sharks centre Marius Louw had been impeded in the process – despite opting to tackle decoy runner Hodge – and that Debreczeni’s unhindered gallop had been illegally procured. Harsh for mine.

They were foiled again shortly after, another wraparound play scything open the befuddled Sharks defence for Naivalu and then Jack Maddocks. But the fullback’s final pass to a waiting Koroibete for the run-in was ‘diverted’ in mid-air by Curwin Bosch. A yellow card was deemed a necessary enough punishment, and the Sharks escaped further punitive ramifications when Ruan Botha stole the lineout and du Preez cleared.

It should have been three as the game entered the second quarter, prop Jermaine Ainsley turning infield with four men on the overlap out wide, and the ball was lost in traffic. And as is often the case, if you don’t make hay while the sun shines, things have a tendency to come back and bite you.

So it was when the Sharks finally put something tangible together in the red zone just before the half hour. Flyhalf du Preez was the instigator, stepping his way within range before setting in motion a passage of tidy offloads that ended with a powerful drive for the line from Lwazi Mvovo. And when du Preez faded the conversion in nicely from the touchline, the Rebels had the flimsiest of 3pt leads to show for all their early dominance.

Reece Hodge missed a long range effort from the flank to extend the advantage. But with the Sharks confidence visibly growing, the home side came up with a timely blow to restore their own belief, and afford them the cushion at half-time that their exploits had deserved.

Following the mantra of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, they duly kicked to touch from a penalty to set up another lineout drive. But if their first successful score from this option had been superbly marshalled, the second was just pure pace, precision and power, the Sharks’ maul defence on skates as a blue surge marched them backwards at an alarming rate for Amanaki Mafi to dot down.

The forwards stepped up again after the restart, a scrum penalty allowing Debreczeni to add three more to the tally for an 18-7 margin. And the AAMI Park faithful were out of their seats ready to acclaim another five-pointer soon after, when a searing break from Jack Maddocks and a pinpoint bullet pass gave Naivalu a run to the corner, only for the winger to throw unselfishly – but inaccurately – infield, when a dive for the line and for glory seemed certain.

It was left to Will Genia – back in the scintillating form he’d shown in the early rounds after a quiet game against the Waratahs – to show the way and really turn the screw on their opponents. Taking a quick-tap penalty just five metres out, he found a willing runner in replacement Richard Hardwick. But when the former Force loose forward was felled short of the line, the Wallaby scrumhalf took matters into his own hands with a dummy, swerve and lunge for the chalk.

Reece Hodge_Rebels v Sharks_2018

Reece Hodge didn’t miss much all night in defence

The icing on the cake came just after the hour. A turnover in their own half with the Sharks menacing was soon carried back hard by a rampaging Adam Coleman, who offloaded in the tackle for Debreczeni to put Koroibete away down the touchline. When he returned the favour to his flyhalf and the ball squirmed back inside, the ubiquitous Meakes was on hand to somehow scoop up off the floor, outmuscle three defenders and twist his way over the line – with the help of the TMO.

But they weren’t finished yet. A play that didn’t appear to be going anywhere fast in the 68th minute, suddenly broke open when replacement Fereti Sa’ga belied his position to race through a tired and demoralised Sharks line, and put it on a plate for Ross Haylett-Petty to go under the posts.

The only blot on the second half copybook was a yellow card for Maddocks, pinged for playing at a Sharks pass that he no doubt thought he could take and go 100 metres for the try. But rules is rules – or of course, laws –  and the visitor’s thought they’d taken advantage when Garth April fixed the Rebels line and put Mvovo away for his second, only for the TMO to rule a knock-on in the build-up that was questionable at best.

They did claim a late consolation when April scooted off a scrum and put Marius Louw over. But even that was rendered pointless when the Rebels scored again off the last play of the game, the impactful Sa’aga crashing home off a short ball to ensure a fourth win from five, a best ever start to a Super Rugby season, and a record margin of victory.

This Rebel yell looks like it might have plenty of oxygen.

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Melbourne Rebels 46 (Anaru Rangi, Amanaki Mafi, Will Genia, Bill Meakes, Ross Haylett-Petty, Fereti Sa’aga tries; Reece Hodge con, pen, Jack Debreczeni 3 cons, pen) defeated Sharks 14 (Lwazi Mvovo, Marius Louw try; Robert du Preez con, Curwin Bosch con) HT 15-7

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