RYAN VREDE reports on an excellent all-round performance from the Sharks that saw them get the bonus point in beating the Bulls 32-10 to keep their Super Rugby campaign alive.
If the Sharks can replicate the characteristics that earned them this most critical of victories – energy, purpose, physicality, accuracy of execution and killer instinct – they will be formidable opponents going forward. Their inconsistency has undermined their cause in recent matches, but tonight they were largely flawless in their approach and execution when they most needed to be.
The Bulls, laden with Springboks, are no soft touch, even away from home. But they were comprehensively outmuscled at the collisions and seldom allowed to get any momentum into their attacks. The Sharks would score four tries, but this win was built on their industry, accuracy and brutality on defence. With their key strike runners nullified, the Bulls’ potency was significantly diluted. Furthermore, the Sharks played above themselves at lineout time and their scrum fronted to further stifle the Bulls.
The Sharks starved them of possession and pinned them in their territory for the first 30 minutes of the contest, scoring two converted tries and two penalties to establish a 20-3 lead at the break, then struck the telling blow of the match three minutes into the second half. The Sharks’ first five pointer came after erosive phase play, Marcell Coetzee setting up Bismarck du Plessis for a try with a deft offload. Their second came after they punched up left then snapped right, JP Pietersen rounding off in the corner.
The Bulls were stunned and their response reflected this, loose, unstructured attacks marking the second quarter. Lwazi Mvovo scrambled well to deny Akona Ndungane a try in the 34th minute and the Bulls couldn’t convert subsequent pressure into the points they needed to stir belief going into the change rooms.
The Sharks then fractured the Bulls’ psyche further when Keegan Daniel alluded the cover defence after another wave of pressure had depleted the numbers in their defensive line.
But the Bulls’ resolve is well known and they rallied in search of what would have been one of the great comebacks. Zane Kirchner finished close to the corner with Morne Steyn converting. And while they enjoyed plenty of time on the ball in the period that followed, their play became increasingly desperate in the face of the Sharks’ immense tackle fight and rabid breakdown contest, the latter yielding numerous turnovers.
Having negotiated the best the Bulls could offer the Sharks set about capturing the five-point win they so needed to improve their chances of making the play-offs. The composure and intelligence they showed in achieving that goal was inspiring and their wild celebrations upon Louis Ludik touching down said everything about how much they had invested in achieving this crucial result.