Sharks tear into hapless Highlanders as Brumbies down Rebels

SOUTH AFRICA’s World Cup hero Makazole Mapimpi bagged a double as the Coastal Sharks outclassed Otago Highlanders Friday, while the Brumbies won their second of the season in a convincing victory over the Rebels.
The Sharks posted five tries to three, with winger Mapimpi — who became the first Springbok to score a try in a Rugby World Cup final during last year’s triumph in Japan — crossing twice in the 42-20 victory at Dunedin.
In Canberra, the ACT Brumbies made it 10 wins on the trot at home by beating the Rebels 39-26, compounding the Melbourne team’s miserable start to the season after a shock 36-27 defeat against Japan’s Sunwolves in Fukuoka last weekend.
Like the Brumbies, who made the semi-finals last year, the Sharks have won two from two after a 23-15 victory over Northern Bulls last week.
“The boys played for each other. The work rate and the defence were great,” captain Lukhanyo Am said after fullback Aphelele Fassi also scored a brace to snuff out a Highlanders’ fightback.
“The Highlanders managed to put us under pressure but we bounced back.”
Highlanders skipper Rob Thompson said a home side featuring six debutants made too many errors at crucial moments.
“Unfortunately we let them off too much,” he said. “But we’re a young team and we have a few boys debuting. Unfortunately we couldn’t get it done for them but we’ll be better for it.”
The Highlanders had a bye last week and looked rusty in their first outing of the season, gifting the Sharks early attacking opportunities with knock-ons and poor lineouts.
The match appeared to be settling into a tightly contested arm wrestle before the Sharks sparked to life, snatching three converted tries in seven minutes to take a 27-3 lead at the break.
The first came when flanker James Venter outpaced the Highlanders defence in a race for the line, before Mapimpi twice found himself on the end of passing moves that left the Highlanders’ tacklers flailing.
The Highlanders were much improved after the break and scored three tries but Fassi’s late double ended any prospect of a comeback.
– ‘Just sloppy’ –
Rebels coach Dave Wessels reshaped his forwards pack after crashing to the Sunwolves, but it was no match for a Brumbies team that came out firing.
“I’m proud of the effort, especially how we started in the first half,” said Brumbies skipper Allan Alaalatoa after the six tries to four win. “They’re a quality side and we knew they would fight back.”
The Brumbies had a try after just four minutes with inside centre Irae Simone throwing a dummy to power over. And they kept pressing as the Rebels’ defence struggled, with Tom Banks also touching down after a beautiful offload from youngster Noah Lolesio, who converted both tries.
Tom Cusack got their third try and Solomone Kata grabbed his first in Super Rugby minutes later after a grubber kick bounced favourably.
The Rebels, who had won their last four matches against the Brumbies, lifted in the final five minutes of the first-half, which saw Angus Cottrell dot down and Matt Toomua convert to give them some hope going into the break 24-7 behind.
They returned invigorated, with a maul pushing Cottrell over for another try a minute after the restart before Folau Fainga’a barged over to restore the Brumbies’ advantage.
Wallabies fullback Dane Haylett-Petty weaved past three defenders to put more points on the board for the Rebels and Frank Lomani also crossed, but it wasn’t enough to make up the deficit.
“We showed heart but you can’t start like that in a competition this good,” said Rebels captain Haylett-Petty. “They just grinded us down. We were just sloppy.”