It must have been a first for a Springbok coach to cringe rather than celebrate while watching an outstanding performance from the top two sides in South Africa.
For Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, watching this breathtaking battle must have been hell. He’d have had more fun if someone were yanking his snor out, hair by hair.
Everywhere De Villiers looked, a potential slayer of the British Lions was inflicting grievous bodily harm on another one.
The Sharks had good reason to put their health at risk: a four-try win would have kept their semifinal dream afloat. They didn’t succeed, but their fiery attempt restored the Durbanites’ wounded pride.
A last-gasp Ryan Kankowski try, drop-converted by Rory Kockott, was the fourth — but victory went to an impressively determined Bulls, whose title hopes are very much alive.
Bakkies Botha tried to set a silly tone in the opening minutes when something about Kankowski’s face bothered him and he used his giant palm in an attempt to fix it.
But from then on, the brutality on offer was gloriously honest and functional, despite a high error count.
The driving, tackling and ruck cleaning were monstrous throughout. As in every collision between these two teams, restraint was a mortal sin.
And sure enough, there were ominous Springbok casualties. Wynand Olivier hobbled off before the game was a quarter old, to be replaced by Jaco Pretorius. And late in the contest, incumbent Bok flyhalf Ruan Pienaar left the field in clear pain, to be replaced by Monty Dumond.
The Bulls kept their shape after Olivier’s departure, and drew first blood minutes later: Zane Kirchner was cleverly fed by Fourie du Preez after a potent chain of phases in the Sharks’ half.
Sharks flanker Keegan Daniel closed the gap with a clever close-range score from lineout ball.
Immediately afterwards, Morne Steyn nailed an excellent drop goal on the stroke of half-time.
The Sharks ran out for the second half with furious resolve — and it was only a matter of time before they seized the lead.
After a brave, resilient central charge by Stefan Terblanche, the ball zipped wide to Odwa Ndungane, who scampered over.
The Shark tank howled with glee— and then Beast Mtawarira cranked up the volume dial with a thunderous raid down the right touchline.
His effort sparked a third try for a gleeful Johan Muller, who snaffled Odwa Ndungane’s improvised pop pass.
The Sharks flier’s brother Akona was also in the mood though, and struck back immediately for the Bulls with a converted try. After JP Pietersen came agonisingly close to getting the bonus-point try, Steyn coolly popped over another drop-goal to put the visitors a point ahead.
And with seven minutes left, Danie Rossouw charged imperiously over two tacklers to score from yet another perfect Du Preez setpiece.Tweet