Sharks race into the top six and SA now have three teams in the play-off race
The Sharks handed the Bulls a harsh lesson, and a reality check, in their Super Rugby derby in Durban on Friday.
Outscoring the men from Pretoria by four tries to one, the Sharks not only left with a well-deserved 32-10 victory, they also moved into the top six on the standings - giving South Africa three teams in the play-off positions with one week of league action to go.
As Bulls captain Pierre Spies admitted afterwards, his team was demolished by a far superior outfit - a Sharks team that was more determined and more clinical than the visitors.
The Bulls finish their league fixtures against the Lions next week and will need a full five points, as will the Sharks who will play the Cheetahs.
Both were quality teams. The Bulls had 14 Springboks in their starting team, the Sharks 11 internationals with another three on the bench. There was nothing soft or haphazard about the match.
The Sharks were blessed with a great start. They led 20-3 after 30 minutes and then 25-3 after 43, leaving the Bulls to play catch-up, swapping penalty opportunities for chances to score tries, but only once successfully.
The Bulls, it seemed, had the Sharks licked in the second half, but with just two chances the Sharks outscored the bulls, 12-7 and fulfilled all their aspirations - a win with a bonus point. There were 36 minutes between the Sharks first and second try in the second half and for the rest they defended, their defence much helped by poor handling by the Bulls and their own dominant set pieces.
There was lot of interest in the scrums - six Springboks against six Springboks, but the Sharks had the current first choices and they showed it. There was interest in the line-outs where the Bulls, led by Juandré Kruger, were expected to have the upper hand but instead it was the Sharks, led by Ryan Kankowski, who dominated.
The first attacking moment spelt out Shark determination. They kicked high and there was Louis Ludik leaping for the ball, catching it and forging ahead. There was a glint in their eyes. The Bulls were penalised and Charl McLeod tapped what was kickable. The Sharks bashed, Marcell Coetzee got a little offload to Bismarck du Plessis and the Herculean hooker bashed Zane Kirchner out of the way and ploughed through Juandré Kruger to score - 7-0 after 12 minutes.
JP Pietersen went offside at a tackle and Morné Steyn goaled, the only Bulls' points in the half.
Two minutes later Chiliboy Ralepelle was penalised for obstruction and from 52 metres out François Steyn goaled. Just back from France and just married, Steyn had an indifferent first game, kicking poorly out of hand but he nailed this one - 10-3 after 17 minutes.
Back came the Sharks bashing. Kankowski was close and then a clever pass from McLeod sent Pietersen past Dean Greyling for a try in the right corner. Frédéric Michalak converted. from touch - 17-3 after 26 minutes.
It was all the Sharks at this stage of the game and when Greyling was penalised at a tackle, Michalak made it 20-3.
Akona Ndungane was over in the right corner as Lwazi Mvovo tackled him but the TMO was able to advise that Ndungane had put a foot out before grounding the ball.
The Bulls ruled the second half in all but points scored.
Several of their best efforts they spoilt by spilling the ball.
Tim Whitehead picked up one unwanted ball and raced away with no-one ahead of him but with astonishing ease Pierre Spies ran him down. But the Sharks were attacking, François Steyn broke and Keegan Daniel spun through Morné Steyn's tackle to score - 25-3 after 43 minutes.
From the kick-off Greyling burst ahead. François Steyn was penalised for a deliberate knock-on and the Bulls opted for a five-metre line-out which they ruined with an overthrow. JJ Engelbrecht broke down the middle of the field and the Bulls turned a penalty in front of the posts into a scrum. They bashed and Greyling was close going right. They went left and Kirchner cut back past Ludik to score. 25-10 after 51 minutes.
Here comes the Bulls stampede - or so people thought. There was no stampede, just quiet grazing for the next 28 minutes.
Meyer Bosman tackled Juandré Kruger who was penalised. Kickable, but François Steyn kicked out. The Sharks mauled. McLeod and Jean Deysel were close and then they went wide right where Ludik went between Kirchner and Basson to score. Compared with the tough defending by the Sharks this really was a soft try.
There was a minute to play, the Sharks got the ball and Cobus Reinach kicked out.
Man of the Match: Hard, strong, effective, intense Bismarck du Plessis was a clear candidate but out choice is Ryan Kankowski who may just have played his best game of rugby ever - ruling the line-out, defending like a Spartan at Thermopylae, carrying the ball with force and cleaning up wherever necessary.
For the Sharks:
Tries: B du Plessis, Pietersen, Daniel, Ludik
Cons: Michalak 2, Bosman
Pens: F Steyn, Michalak
For the Bulls:
Con: M Steyn
Pen: M Steyn
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Tim Whitehead, 12 Francois Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Keegan Daniel (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandré Marais, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Meyer Bosman, 22 Odwa Ndungane.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandrè Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 CJ Stander, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Francois Venter.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius Jonker (South Africa), Tiaan Jonker (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)