Pretoria - A Butch James penalty conversion at the death earned
his side a Currie Cup home semi-final in their 18-16 victory over the
Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Friday.
While the result was a knock to the Bulls' chances of
reaching the playoffs, the Pretoria side clinched a bonus point out of
the match for losing by less than seven points.
The Bulls moved past the Cheetahs on the log level on
17 points and next week's encounter between these sides in Bloemfontein
could decide which of the teams progress to the semi-finals.
With the Bulls playing for their survival in this
year's Currie Cup, they needed to produce a clinical performance against
the log-leading Sharks.
Despite conceding two yellow cards for ill-discipline,
the visitors still managed to sneak through a victory in a match where a
stalemate would have been a fair outcome.
The hosts had a shaky first 20 minutes of the match as
they struggled particularly in the set-pieces, while the Sharks looked
The Sharks' bright young flyhalf Fred Zeilinga had two
opportunities to give his side an early advantage but missed both
Zeilinga finally found his target on the 10 minute mark
to open the scoring, but his Bulls counterpart Handre Pollard replied
with a penalty goal two minutes later to level the scores again.
The Sharks pivot further opened the gap with a penalty conversion a minute later, before adding another in the 33rd minute.
While neither of the sides showed real intent to cross
the whitewash, the Bulls slowly but surely made inroads in the set
Where they were clearly outmuscled during scrum time
and struggling in the lineouts in the first 20 minutes, they showed
greater resistance as the game progressed.
Six minutes before the half-time break the Sharks
conceded their first yellow card when referee Marius van der Westhuizen
sent flanker Jacques Botes to the sin-bin.
At the restart after the half-time break, the Sharks
came out firing as they launched the first real attack on the advantage
line as their strong ball carriers bashed their way towards the tryline.
For all their efforts, they only had three points to
show for it, with Zeilinga adding another penalty conversion to extend
their lead to six points.
The Bulls had an opportunity to close the gap again a minute later, but Pollard's long-range kick fell well short of the goals.
The Light Blues were given another helping hand by Van
der Westhuizen in the 60th minute when the referee sent Sharks strongman
Jean Deysel packing for infringements at the breakdown.
A minute later the Bulls took full advantage of being a
player up with centre Francois Venter managing to get over the chalk
after a strong scrum from the Bulls meters from the goalline, with
Pollard added a penalty five minutes later to extend the home side's lead to four points with 14 minutes left on the clock.
The Sharks, however, held their composure and
replacement flyhalf Butch James got his side within a point of the hosts
with a penalty goal in the 70th minute before he had the final say in
the 79th minute with another successful kick.
Blue Bulls - 16 (6): Try: Francois Venter; Conversion: Handré Pollard; Penalties: Pollard (3)
Sharks - 18 (9): Penalties: Fred Zeilinga (4), Butch James (2).
15 Jurgen Visser,
14 Akona Ndungane, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Bjorn
Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7
Jacques du Plessis, 6 Wiaan Liebenberg, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Paul
Willemse, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
16 Bandise Maku, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jacques
Engelbrecht, 20 Lohan Jacobs, 21 Ulrich Beyers, 22 Sampie Mastriet
SP Marais, 14. Odwa Ndungane, 13. Tim Whitehead, 12. Heimar Williams,
11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Fred Zeilinga, 9. Cobus Reinach, 8. Keegan Daniel
(captain), 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Jacques Botes, 5. Stephen Lewies, 4. Peet
Marais, 3. Wiehahn Herbst, 2. Kyle Cooper 1. Dale Chadwick
16. Monde Hadebe, 17. Danie Mienie, 18. Edwin Hewitt, 19. Marcell
Coetzee, 20. Charl McLeod, 21. Butch James, 22. Louis Ludik