Sharks win the try count four to three
The Blue Bulls produced a sublime second-half performance in Pretoria on Saturday, to end the Sharks' unbeaten run in the Currie Cup competition.
Scoring 24 points in a 20-minute spell, the Bulls raced into a 42-24 lead, from which there was no coming back for a tiring Sharks team.
A late rally allowed the visitors to salvage a four-try bonus point, as the Bulls went away with a convincing 42-31 win from a very entertaining encounter at Loftus Versfeld.
Although both teams showed early intentions of running the ball, it quickly developed into a battle of the boot.
Initially the Sharks were better at executing those high kicks and they also dealt with the bombs better than the Bulls. Riaan Viljoen was the master, time-and-again driving the Bulls back into their 22.
The Sharks' biggest concerns will centre around their line-out issues, as the Bulls profited most from this aspect.
The Bulls still seem to rely a tad too much on their forwards getting them on the front foot, but when they did let it go to the backs there were promising signs. It was clearly evident in their opening try, when they countered from a kick-off and from deep they managed to work the ball through enough hands for CJ Stander to touch down almost 80 metres down the field.
And a lack of discipline at time also cost the Bulls, as they had a penalty - and possibly three points - turned over, when Ruan Snyman got a big too excited at a ruck and used his boots after the referee had already awarded a penalty. That eventually resulted in a Sharks try at the end of the first half.
But the men from Pretoria stuck to their guns - combining their high-kick-'n-chase game very well with the expansive rugby they have been playing to great affect.
While the Sharks outscored them by four tries to three, the Bulls showed they are far from the one-dimensional outfit so many uninformed pundits would like to believe they are.
The Bulls, from a great kick-off, earned a scrum five metres from the Sharks line. That quickly became a penalty and Louis Fouché had no trouble in slotting the kick to give his team a 3-0 lead.
The Sharks had their moments in the opening 10 minutes, but a combination of poor handling and the Bulls' determined defence kept them out.
In the 15th minute the Bulls had another shot at goal, after the Sharks failed to release the ball at the breakdown, and Fouché made no mistake - 6-0 to the home team.
The Sharks kept working hard and in the 22nd minute - following a high bomb by Riaan Viljoen - they regathered the bouncing ball and captain Jean Deysel was up in support for lock Steven Sykes to collect a pass and flop over for the opening try. Viljoen added the extras, as the Sharks hit the lead for the first time - 7-6.
Almost immediately the Sharks conceded another breakdown penalty and from virtually right in front Fouché made no mistake - the Bulls regaining the lead, 9-7.
Poor handling continued to haunt the Sharks as the first half progressed, with a couple of counter opportunities going to waste.
And two minutes before the half-time break Fouché produced a brilliant drop-goal, landing the three-pointer from well inside his own half.
However, right on the half-time hooter Charl McLeod went over, and despite evidence suggesting the pass from Steven Sykes was forward, the TMO ruled that it was a good try. Viljoen's conversion attempt went over off the upright and the visitors took a two-point (14-12) lead into the break.
The Bulls got the second half off in perfect fashion, Fouché regaining the lead for his team after just three minutes - when McLeod went offside at a ruck.
Viljoen replied in kind, a penalty from inside his own half, after the Bulls failed to release the ball in the tackle.- 17-15 to the visitors.
The tit-for-tat penalty kicks continued - Fouché regaining the lead in the 50th minute, after the Sharks collapsed a Bulls maul just metres from their line.
From the restart the Bulls came storming straight back, first a little chip kick, which they regained, and then quick hands to the right where first Akona Ndungane was put into space and he then off-loaded to the inside where CJ Stander collected and sprinted over for the Bulls' first try. Fouché's conversion - which kept his 100 percent goal-kicking record in the match intact - made it 25-17 to the home team.
The Sharks kept banging away, even turning down a kickable penalty and in the 56th minute their were rewarded for their persistence when Marius Joubert worked his way over from close range for his team's third try. Viljoen made it a one-point (24-25) game.
Fouché continued his superb kicking display, landing a penalty from 45 metres, on the angle, to stretch the lead to four points - 28-24, with 20 minutes to go.
Four minutes later Arno Botha went over for the Bulls' second score - a try coming after Akona Ndungane collected a high bomb and on the front foot there was no stopping the stampeding Bulls forwards. Fouché 100 percent kicking rate stayed intact and with 15 minutes on the clock the lead was 11 points - 35-24.
With just over 10 minutes remaining the Bulls raced further clear - with quick hands again putting Akona Ndungane into space and he in turn giving the inside pass that put Francois Venter over for the third try. And Fouché made no mistake with the conversion - 42-24.
The Sharks had one last shot at a bonus point and from a five-metre scrum they worked their way over the line. It went to the TMO, who ruled that a Sharks player had illegally propelled himself forward. They went back for another penalty and this time the Sharks went wide, where Odwa Ndungane went over to salvage something from the game for his team. Viljoen also kept his 100 percent kicking record to make the final score 31-42.
Man of the match: Monde Hadebe was a real livewire in open play, making life decidedly unpleasant for the Bulls with his energetic performance. Riaan Viljoen has taken to the flyhalf position very well, and his booming boot is serving the Sharks very well. Steven Sykes was one of the Sharks most effective players in open space, showing sublime hands - producing the scoring pass for both of the Sharks' first-half tries and working hard in the tight. Flank CJ Stander really came into his own after a slow start. Johann Sadie looked really impressive in his first Currie Cup start for the Blue Bulls, especially with the ball in open space - he finally showed why the Bulls signed the Cape Town product.. Louis Fouché had probably his best game in the light blue jersey, clearly benefiting from getting a number of consecutive starts and not just coming off the bench late in the game. Kicking three conversions, six penalties and a drop-goal from inside his own half to ensure he was right up there in the final reckoning. However, Bulls left wing Clayton Blommetjies did just about everything - chasing the kick-offs, the high balls, popping up at scrumhalf and producing a service most international No.9s would be proud of, tackling big forwards like Jean Deysel and then even managed an awesome touch-finder from near his 22 that drove the Sharks back to their own try-line. He gets our award.
For the Blue Bulls:
Tries: Stander, Botha, Venter
Cons: Fouché 3
Pens: Fouché 6
For the Sharks:
Tries: Deysel, McLeod, Joubert, O Ndungane
Cons: Viljoen 4
Blue Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Clayton Blommetjies, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Ruan Snyman, 8 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 7 CJ Stander, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Dawie Steyn.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Cornell Hess, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Rudi Paige, 21 Lionel Cronjé, 22 Ulrich Beyers.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Marius Joubert, 11 S'bura Sithole, 10 Riaan Viljoen, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Jacques Botes, 7 Jean Deysel (captain), 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Monde Hadebe, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Jandré Marais, 19 Lubabalo Mtembu, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Gouws Prinsloo.
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistants: Marius van der Westhuizen, Cobus Wessels
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee