Bulls go top after Loftus squeaker
Bulls go top after Loftus squeakerSHARE
The Bulls moved to the top of the Super Rugby standings with a fortuitous 20-19 win over the Sharks in Pretoria on Saturday.
It was a missed penalty by Sharks fullback Riaan Viljoen in the final minute of the game that handed the Bulls the one-point win at Loftus Versfeld – a result even they will acknowledge was probably not their best performance.
In a game of brutal hits, which left players on both side battered and bruised, the Sharks also had two players yellow carded. This included flyhalf Andrew James, who was appointed captain just before kick-off, after some late changes to the team.
The Sharks, from the outset, attempted to play the game at pace and stretch the Bulls' pack. However, at times they let themselves down with sloppy handling.
While the Bulls were more structured than their opponents, they produced some great attacks of their own – none better than the Morné Steyn-Bjorn Basson combination in which the wing plucked a sublime cross-field kick by the flyhalf out the air for the home side's first five-pointer.
The Bulls' scrum for most part stood their ground against the powerful all-Springbok front row and obviously had the edge for the 10-minute period that Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis was in the sin bin. But there was the occasional set piece where the visitors' power came through.
Referee Jason Jaftha's rulings made the breakdown a lottery and needless to say the players became more jittery and frustrated as the game wore on.
What the Sharks did do better than the Bulls, was adjust to match official's interpretations. And as the penalty count mounted after the break, so did the visitors' score. In the end, it came down to one missed kick.
The Bulls opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a Morné Steyn penalty, but the Sharks' response was swift and clinical.
Andrew James started a counter inside his own 22, a sublime little chip and a favourable bounce allowing Lwazi Mvovo to sprint downfield and then pass inside to Patrick Lambie for the opening try. Lambie could not add the extras, but the visitors had a 5-3 lead.
Minutes later the Sharks were reduced to 14 men with the assistant referee reported that Bismarck du Plessis had hit an opponent with the elbow in the face. And Steyn made the Sharks pay for their lack of discipline – 6-5.
Lambie regained the lead (8-6) in the 23rd minute, when the referee's call went against the Bulls at the breakdown.
However, the Bulls hit back emphatically – Morné Steyn launching a sublime cross-field kick, which Bjorn Basson plucked out the air for the home team's first five-pointer. Steyn added the extras – 13-8 after 25 minutes.
With just under four minutes left on the clock to the break, the Bulls were penalised for offside inside the Sharks half and Riaan Viljoen stepped up from about 55 metres out. However, he pushed it wide to the right. And a Lambie attempt from 40 metres out on the half-time hooter was even wider of the mark.
The second-half scoring started with a scrum penalty against the Bulls, which Lambie slotted to make it a two-point game (11-13).
And minutes later Lambie gave his team the lead with another penalty, for a tackle without the ball, 14-13.
The bounce continued to favour the Sharks, a sublime chip by Andrew James sitting up for Odwa Ndungane – who collected and raced the last 20 metres for the five-pointer. Lambie's conversion was wide – the Sharks leading 19-13 with 25 minutes left on the clock.
Atter a number of penalties against the Sharks – with their captain Andrew James rather fortunate not to have been penalised for a slap in the face and pulling the hair of an opponent – the Bulls lost a five-metre line-out, as the Sharks' energy levels continued to rise and the home team's heads dropped.
With the clock ticking away and the Bulls' close-on bashing not working, it was a moment of madness by Sharks captain Andrew James that turned the game on its head.
A high tackle, which eventually resulted in James being yellow carded, allowed the Bulls to exploit a lapse in the Sharks' defensive line – a Jurgen Visser grubber, which he collected, exposing the visitors. Jano Vermaak ran a great supportive line to finish the move with a great try. Steyn's conversion gave the Bulls a one-point (20-19) lead with six minutes left on the clock.
With two minutes remaining the Sharks won a penalty, from which they set up a line-out ion the Bulls 22-metre line. The Bulls were penalised for collapsing the maul, but Riaan Viljoen was wide and the Bulls escaped with a 20-19 win – going top of the Super Rugby standings.
Man of the match: Andrew James produced some sublime touches of his own and kept the Sharks on the front foot, but lost his cool in the last 20 minutes and cost his team. Willem Alberts, Jean Deysel and Marcell Coetzee kept charging at the opposition in determined fashion, while Franco van der Merwe was again one of the players who did plenty of hard work on defence. Keegan Daniel's work in the line-out is also worth mentioning. JJ Engelbrecht and Jan Serfontein again ran strongly, Dewald Potgieter and Deon Stegmann also put their bodies on the line. However, our award goes to Bulls flyhalf Morné Steyn. Whatever the critic say about Steyn, his ability to read the game and make great calls is vital to the Bulls' cause.
For the Bulls:
Tries: Basson, Vermaak
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 2
For the Sharks:
Tries: Lambie, O Ndungane
Pens: Lambie 3
Yellow card: Bismarck du Plessis (Sharks, 14 – foul play, elbow in the face), Andrew James (Sharks, 72 – foul play, dangerous tackle)
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter (captain), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Jürgen Visser, 22 Morné Mellett.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 ,Patrick Lambie 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Andrew James (captain), 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandré Marais, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwessen (South Africa)