Pretoria - The Bulls confirmed their status as the top team in Super Rugby as they moved to first place on the overall log following a nail-biting 20-19 victory over the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday evening.
The match opened at a breathtaking pace as both sides attacked the gain-line with great intent, trying to establish early dominance.
While there was little to pick between the sides in the early stages, the Sharks’ physical loose-forwards left a few Bulls defenders flat on their backs and their egos bruised in the process.VIDEO: Bulls v Sharks, highlights
In a surprise move, the Sharks made last minute changes to the run-on side with flyhalf Patrick Lambie
shifting to inside centre and Butch James
running out in the No 10 jersey.
James was also given the captain’s armband ahead of Keegan Daniel
, who found himself on the bench.Willem Alberts
moved from the side of the scrum to No 8, for Daniel, and Jean Deysel received a starting berth as blind-side flank.
The home side often found themselves on the wrong side of referee Jason Jaftha’s whistle, particularly at the breakdowns, while the Sharks seemingly did not put a foot wrong in this area.
The Bulls landed the first punch when flyhalf Morné Steyn succeeded with a penalty conversion, six minutes into the match.
The hosts launched a threatening attack on the Sharks line, but a Bismarck du Plessis turnover saw play move to the other side of the field.
The ball shifted to Lambie who punched through a clever chip-kick which a speeding Lwazi Mvovo
As Mvovo increased speed, he opened the gap between himself and the defenders, and off-loaded to Lambie on his inside to score.
Ill discipline cost the Sharks as Du Plessis spent 10 minutes on the sideline after throwing an elbow at a Bulls player.
Steyn added three points to the scoreline to give the Bulls the lead again, only for Lambie to put his side in front with a penalty conversion in the 23rd minute.
The Bulls finally crossed the whitewash in the 24th minute when Steyn gave a well-weighted cross kick to Bjorn Basson
, waiting in the wings. With an open tryline he scored and Steyn converted the try. The Bulls led 13-8 at half-time.
Shortly after break, Lambie kicked a penalty to narrow the deficit and added another three points four minutes later for a one-point lead.
The visitors extended their lead in the 54th minute when James gave a clever cross-kick to Odwa Ndungane
, who beat Zane Kirchner
in the air to find his way to the goal area. Lambie missed his conversion attempt.
The Bulls camped out in the Sharks 22 for an extended period of play to no avail as the visitors managed to prevent them from scoring.
With eight minutes left on the clock, the Bulls found the breakthrough when Jurgen Visser grubber-kicked the ball and found Jano Vermaak
on his inside.
The nippy scrumhalf darted for the goal-line to dive over, with Steyn converting to hand his side a one-point lead.
Before Visser's contribution, he was floored by a high tackle from James, who received his marching orders for his neck-high hit on the fullback.
With a minute left in the match, the Sharks were given an opportunity to spoil the party, but Riaan Viljoen missed a penalty attempt handing the hosts a crucial victory.Scorers:Bulls:
Tries: Bjorn Basson
, Jano Vermaak
Conversions: Morné Steyn (2)
Penalties: Steyn (2)Sharks:
Tries: Patrick Lambie
, Odwa Ndungane
Penalties: Lambie (3)Teams: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 vd Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger
, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle
, 1 Dean Greyling
Substitutes: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Jano Vermaak
, 21 Jurgen Visser, 22 Morné MelletSharks:
15. Riaan Viljoen, 14. Odwa Ndungane
, 13. Louis Ludik, 12. Patrick Lambie
, 11. Lwazi Mvovo
, 10. Butch James
, 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 (captain), 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Wiehahn Herbst, 18. Jandre Marais, 19. Keegan Daniel
, 20. Jacques Botes, 21. Cobus Reinach
, 22. Jaco van Tonder