The Sharks have moved into top spot on the Currie Cup log standings after disposing of the Blue Bulls courtesy of a 34-25 win at Absa Stadium in Durban on Saturday.
Rugby 365 reports that the Bulls had many chances to open up a substantial lead over their hosts, but some crucial handling errors, and five missed kicks at goal from Blue Bulls flyhalf Morné Steyn ultimately sealed their fate.
Bulls fullback Tiger Mangweni, who had such a superb match against Western Province last week, was culpable this time round, spilling a routine pass with the try-line virtually under his nose in the second half. That was the most blatant of many scoring opportunities wasted by the Bulls, which came back to haunt them in the end.
On the positive side, there were great performances all over the park, and not necessarily by the star Springbok names one would usually expect. Bryan Habana had a match he’d rather forget, but the Ndungane twins, Odwa and Akona, both played superbly on opposing sides.
It was a slightly scrappy start to this crucial top-of-the table clash and eventually it was the Sharks who were left to rue a slow start as they conceded a soft try early on, when Francois Steyn found himself on the receiving end of a solid hand-off from Wynand Olivier.
The Bulls centre offloaded to Marius Delport in the tackle, and the outside centre made no mistake as he crashed over to open the scoring in the match.
Flyhalf Morné Steyn added the extra two to hand the Bulls a 7-0 lead.
However, the Sharks were unfazed and it wasn’t long before they levelled things at 7-7 after wing Odwa Ndungane scored a great try in the corner after showing up Springbok colleague Bryan Habana, who dallied in defence.
The second quarter saw both sides battle bravely as they tried to assert their ascendancy but it was clear that there were two very evenly matched teams on the Absa Stadium turf.
Sharks scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar slotted a penalty to score the last points of the first half. The home side went into the break with a tenuous 10-7 lead.
The Sharks came out of the blocks faster in the second period, and quickly extended their lead to 17-7 after replacement wing JP Pietersen scored a majestic try following a quick turnover by the Sharks loose forwards.
The Bulls fought back magnificently though and two quick tries to lock Victor Matfield and then the in-form Olivier made it 17-17 with 20 minutes to play.
A few minutes later and suddenly the Bulls were the ones with a 25-17 advantage after Steyn slotted another penalty and Olivier crossed for another try.
The Sharks though hit back superbly with a try from fullback Stefan Terblanche. The try and conversion by Pienaar made it 25-24 to the Bulls with just under 15 minutes left on the clock, and the match was back in the balance.
This thrilling clash reached another twist when Pienaar slotted a great penalty to make it 27-25.
But the see-saw encounter reached the climax it deserved. That ending was provided in emphatic fashion by mercurial Sharks No.8 Keegan Daniel, who scored a magnificent individual try to make it 34-25 with the conversion, and break the Bulls resistance for good.
Daniel received the ball on the halfway line, summed up the Bulls defence, and chipped into space, gambling against Bryan Habana.
The bounce of the ball embarrassed the Bulls’ Springbok wing, while Daniel had to use all his skill to gather the ball, evade the cover defence and smash his way over the line for an incredible try which effectively put the match beyond doubt.
For the Sharks:
Tries: Ndungane, Pietersen, Terblanche, Daniel
Cons: Pienaar 4
Pen: Pienaar 2
For the Bulls:
Tries: Delport, Matfield, Olivier 2
Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Francois Steyn, 12 Bradley Barritt, 11 Waylon Murray, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller (captain), 4 Alistair Hargreaves, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Skipper Badenhorst, 1 Deon Carstens.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Patric Cilliers, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Albert van den Berg, 20 Skholiwe Ndlovu, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 JP Pietersen.
Blue Bulls: 15 Tiger Mangweni, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Marius Delport, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Derick Kuün, 1 Jaco Engels.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Juandré Kruger, 19 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Dewald Potgieter,