Bulls win thriller at Loftus
Pretoria - The Bulls have claimed their first victory of the Super Rugby season
with a hard-fought 43-35 bonus-point win over the Sharks at Loftus
Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
As it happened: Bulls v Sharks
For the first time this season the Bulls finally performed to their potential as their forwards fronted up against a decent opponent.
Where there were flickers by individual players in the first two rounds, the Bulls dished up a collective effort to take the spoils.
The Bulls' senior players were an anonymous factor in the previous games but made the step-up with Victor Matfield, Adriaan Strauss and Pierre Spies making their presence felt.
The home side took better care of their possession while they came away with points when when the opportunity arose.
The visitors nevertheless made the hosts work hard for their first victory of the season as they came back from an 11-point deficit to take the lead for the first time nine minutes from time.
Sharks flyhalf Patrick Lambie was on song with his kicking as he kept the scoreboard ticking over for his side with seven penalty conversions and two try conversions for a 25-point contribution.
The match started with the flyhalves exchanging penalty conversions before Pollard put his side in front with two attempts in the ninth and 14th minutes for a six-point lead.
Lambie cut the lead to three with a penalty goal in the 23rd minute.
A minute later the Bulls scored a controversial try thanks to a Jesse Kriel line break that led to wing Francois Hougaard scoring in the left-hand corner.
The decision was referred to Television Match Official Johan Greeff to look at the offload from Kriel to Hougaard.
While it appeared to be a forward pass, Greeff awarded the try, with Pollard converting the try to stretch their lead to nine points.
The Sharks bounced back in emphatic fashion as eighthman Ryan Kankowski took a pass from SP Marais for his side's first five-pointer, with Lambie converting.
Four minutes from half-time the Bulls edged closer to the line after setting up a few phases before Rudy Paige sent flanker Deon Stegmann over the line with the teams going to the dressing rooms with the score on 23-16 to the home side.
The hosts started the second half with a flourish as captain Pierre Spies was also sent through a gap by Paige for their third try of the encounter to see their lead swell to 11 points.
The coastal side continued to probe the Bulls defence which finally paid off as scrumhalf Cobus Reinach charged down a Paige box kick to score the try, with Lambie converting.
Lambie landed two more penalties in the 67th and 73rd minute to hand his side the lead for the first time in the match.
Five minutes from time, flyhalf replacement Tian Schoeman wrested the lead back for the Bulls as he slotted his penalty attempt.
With only a few minutes left on the clock the Bulls opted for a corner kick instead of going for the penalty conversion.
This nearly backfired on them as the Sharks countered from their 22 before the ball was fumbled, and then collected by Bulls centre Jan Serfontein, who drove towards the line to score his side's fourth and bonus-point try.
Bulls - 43 (23): Tries: Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies, Deon Stegmann, Jan Serfontein; Conversions: Handré Pollard (3), Tian Schoeman; Penalties: Pollard (4), Schoeman.
Sharks - 35 (16): Tries: Ryan Kankowski, Cobus Reinachs; Conversions: Pat Lambie (2); Penalties: Lambie (7).
15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Handre Pollard 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Morne Mellett
Substitutes: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Travis Ismaiel, 23 Jurgen Visser
15. SP Marais, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Waylon Murray, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Patrick Lambie, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Ryan Kankowski, 7. Renaldo Bothma, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4. Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1. Dale Chadwick
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Thomas du Toit, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Marco Wentzel, 20. Jean Deysel, 21. Conrad Hoffmann, 22. Fred Zeilinga/Lionel Cronje, 23. Jack Wilson