The Sharks kept alive the slim hopes they have of still qualifying for the playoffs of the Super Rugby competition, by beating the Bulls 32 – 10 at Mr Price Kings Park on Friday night. In a display of clinical running rugby, coupled with minimal errors, saw the Sharks knock back the Bulls in a showing of brutal rugby, showing that deep down, they do actually have what it takes to win the competition.
The game started at a frenetic pace, with the Sharks enjoying the majority of the ball, and the Bulls kicking everything back at them when they did get ball in hand. The first opportunity for points was missed by Fred Michalak, slicing the left upright. After further domination in possession and territory, the Sharks managed to put Bismarck du Plessis over the line for the first five pointer. The Sharks showed patience on attack and managed to keep errors from creeping into their attacking play to set up the all-important first try.
The first possession for the Bulls in Sharks territory turned into three points, with Morne Steyn hitting the target from 40m out. From the kick off, the Bulls had a great break through Francois Hougaard, but his offload, and certain try after, was ruled as obstruction, and instead the mercurial Frans Steyn set up for a 55m penalty goal, which sailed through for a further three.
The period that followed saw the game see saw in both halves, but the Sharks looked the better of the two teams, and proved that they do in fact have the ability to keep possession and get points when they get into the opposition 22m. This was seen again as JP Pietersen went over for the second try of the match, again following a good string of phases and play amongst the forwards. Michalak converted a difficult attempt from the touchline to take the lead to 14 points.
The Bulls hardly managed to get into the Sharks’ half of the field, with the men in Black and White relentless on defence, and preferring to play the game in the Bulls’ half, with huge punts from Steyn and even Ludik. The Sharks put the pressure on the Bulls and were rewarded with another penalty, which Michalak stroked through the poles.
The Bulls showed what a class outfit they are though, getting Akona Ndungane over the tryline, bar his foot in touch after a try saving tackle by Lwazi Mvovo. The Sharks defence was resilient, and the Bulls were kept from getting points with minutes remaining in the first half. The half came to an end with the Bulls on the front foot, but the Sharks would be happy to have two of the required tries on the board already.
Pieter-Steph du Toit went off just before the half time whistle, being replaced by Jandre Marais, and showed what an impact he will be making come the Currie Cup. He was good in the set pieces and was a great option as a ball carrier.
The second half started as the first half did, and turnover ball was ran 40 odd meters by Tim Whitehead, before being caught by Pierre Spies, but had the Sharks deep in Bulls territory which was converted into a fantastic five pointer scored by captain Keegan Daniel. The ball retention from the Sharks was crucial, as a turnover was punted down the park by the Bulls, only to be run back by the backs. Michalak pushed the conversion to the right, but the men in black and white had built themselves a comfortable 22 point cushion.
The Bulls found themselves on the attack immediately after the try, setting up a 5m lineout from a Sharks indiscretion. The Bulls lost the lineout, mainly due to the amount of pressure the jumper was put under by the Sharks competing in the lineouts. The Bulls came again with attack after attack, but the Sharks hardly missed a tackle as the Bulls started running out of ideas. Eventually though, the defence cracked, and the Bulls scored through Zane Kirchner, who has been all over the park with some crucial runs for the Bulls. Steyn converted the try and pulled the deficit to 15 points, with a lot of rugby still to be played.
A scrum penalty gave Frans ‘the boot’ Steyn another opportunity to add three points, this time from 57 or meters out, but this time he did not have enough on it, and the Bulls could breathe again. With 25 minutes left in the game, errors started creeping into the Sharks’ game, with passes going to ground and silly kicks leading to the Bulls seeing more possession as a result.
The Bulls kept possession for long stints in the last quarter of the match, but the Sharks defence held strong, with the players showing some intense commitment, something that has been short of in the Black and White of the Sharks in recent times. Fresh legs in the form of Herbst, Deysel and Ndungane helped the cause of being alert on defence, and possibly an attempt to get go forward in the search of the fourth try.
With less than five minutes on the clock, the Sharks won a penalty and pushed it into the corner for a 5m attacking lineout, which resulted in Louis Ludik going over for the most important try he has ever scored, securing a five point full house for the Sharks. Bosman converted the try to push the lead to 22 points, an emphatic victory over the mighty Bulls.
The Sharks looked a composed team for the first time this season, with the loose forward balanced in players that take the ball up and players getting to the rucks. The addition of Ryan Kankowski to double as a lineout jumper was genius. The ball was spread through the backline more in the first half alone, than I have seen this entire season. Frans Steyn had a massive influence in the game, not only in the presence of his massive boot, but his physicality in the backline was ever present and equally crucial.
That said though, the Sharks still have a long way to go to prove that they can perform as they have against the Bulls on a weekly basis. It requires the team to play at that level for the entire 80 minutes and not rest on their laurels once they have a lead. The Bulls seemed off their game tonight, and should the Sharks have caught them on a better night, the result might not have been as favourable.
Tries: Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen, Keegan Daniel, Louis Ludik
Conversions: Fred Michalak (2 from 3), Meyer Bosman (1 from 1)
Penalties: Fred Michalak (1 from 2), Frans Steyn (1 from 1)
Tries: Zane Kirchner
Conversions: Morne Steyn (1 from 1)
Penalties: Morne Steyn (1 from 1)