It was hot in South Africa on Saturday. It was hot in Bloemfontein when the Lions and the Cheetahs played and it was hot and sticky in Durban when the Bulls and the Sharks played – hot and sticky at 27°C with humidity (66% ) that made grass, ball and bodies wet. It was not a day for easily constructive rugby.
That said, the Sharks were far and away more creative than the Pretoria visitors. The Bulls it seemed – apart from a maul after a line-out and kicking the ball into the air – had not a single creative thought in their minds. The Sharks on the other hand did try to play with the ball.
There was interest before the match between the two sets of centres. The Shark’s centres tried things; the Bulls centres did not. The Sharks’ flyhalf gave his men space and opportunity to do things; the Bulls’ flyhalf kicked and nothing else; the Sharks’ scrumhalf was lively and nippy; the Bulls scrumhalf did what he does worst – kick box kicks; the Sharks’ loose trio were keen to carry the ball on the attack; the Bulls loose trio made no contribution to the game; SP Marais had greater freedom to run than all seven Bulls’ backs.
All of that suggests that the Sharks deserved to win and they did. In fact a bigger score would have made more sense, though In the first half the Bulls’ did well at heavy-duty jobs, but even there they could not turn them into points. They had five-metre line-outs, they tapped penalties five metres from the line and charged and they did not score a single point in doing so. It must have been demoralising as their captain, well wrapped for conflict, watched.
Louis Fouché of the Bulls kicked off but the Sharks easily coped with that and in fact scored the first points when Akona Ndungane was penalised at a tackle and Pat Lambie goaled. 3-0 after 3 minutes. On advantage Fouché dropped a goal. 3-all after 8 minutes.
Then came the try of the match. The Sharks threw into a line-out on the half-way line on their left. The ball went to Lambie and Frans Steyn cut in as if to take a scissors but Lambie ignored him and passed to Lwazi Mvovo coming off his left wing. He cut clean through between Fouché and Jan Serfontein and raced downfield. Confronted he gave Paul Jordaan a perfect pass. He was too fast for desperate Jürgen Visser and was over in Akona Ndungane’s tackle. Lambie missed the conversion. 8-3 after 8 minutes.
Fouché kicked a penalty and it was 8-6 after 14 minutes. Then came a try which looked too good to be true.
The Bulls won a line-out and Hougaard was about to pass to Fouché but then changed his mind and tried to hold the pass back, perhaps because he saw the danger of interceptive Reinach. The result was an appalling pass which Reinach caught and skipped through for a gift try.
The referee referred the incident to a the TMO who could not find evidence of foul play on the jumper nor ‘clear and obvious’ evidence of a knock-on by the Sharks, and so the try stood. Lambie missed the easy conversion. 13-6 after 21 minutes.
Lambie goaled a long, angled kick when Bulls were penalised for being offside within 10 metres after a horror kick by Hougaard. 16-6 after 32 minutes which became 16-9 four minutes later when Fouché goaled his second penalty.
Time was up in the half when Pierre Spies won the ball at a tackle on the Sharks’ left but the ball was immediately ripped from his grasp by Reinach who passed to Bismarck du Plessis who passed to Steyn who immediately kicked a high diagonal kick. Odwa Ndungane caught the ball on the full just in from touch moved away from the touchline and scored. Lambie converted from touch and the Sharks led 23-9 at the break.
In the second half there was even more kicking. At one stage a sequence of play went: Sharks kicked; Bulls kicked; Sharks marked and kicked; the Bulls kicked; Sharks marked and kicked. It was no wonder that the big Kings Park chord sought their own entertainment in a Mexican wave.
The biggest interest in the early part of the second half was the entry of Victor Matfield for his 125th Super Rugby match, coming on as a substitute for Paul Willemse.
Steyn was short with two long-range penalty attempts and even shorter with a longer-range drop attempt. Then Dean Greyling was offside and Lambie made it 26-9 after 47 minutes.
There was an outburst of substitutions soon after this and one of the fresh players, Piet van Zyl, formerly of the Cheetahs, got the ball off Anton Bresler and raced downfield but Marais tackled him and the opportunity receded.
Marcell Coetzee won a turnover and Bismarck du Plessis ran strongly to set the Sharks on the attack.
A penalty gave the Bulls a line-out in Sharks territory. The visitors mauled and yet again the Sharks transgressed. This time Jean Deysel was sent to the sin bin for the infringements of those who had erred before him.
While he was meditating on the side line, the Bulls kicked out for a five-metre line-out, mauled and this time got over for a group try which Jono Ross grounded. Handré Pollard converted. 26-16 after 73 minutes.
There were seven minutes left for the Sharks to get their bonus-point try or for the Bulls to get within bonus-point range.
The Sharks attacked down the left and Bjorn Basson knocked the ball into touch, for which he was penalised and sent to the sin bin. There was just time for the line-out and the Sharks went wide left, bashing and getting closer. Then Ross was penalised. Bismarck du Plessis tapped and Sharks bashed again. That fizzled out but hooker Bongi Mbonambi was penalised. The Sharks went for it and Lambie broke inside Mbonambi and scored the bonus-point try on 83 minutes. Lambie missed the conversion, not that it seemed to matter.
Man of the Match: The candidates were all Sharks – SP Marais, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Jaco Reinach, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Bismarck du Plessis, swift Paul Jordaan and our choice – a slimmer Francois Steyn who not only kept his head at the end in fielding the worst passes with the slippery ball to make the bonus-point try possible, but pulled the trick that gave Mvovo an opening and kicked that brilliant diagonal that gave Odwa Ndungane his try. When he had the ball he either made opportunities for team-mates or embarrassed opponents as he drove at them.
For the Sharks:
Tries: Jordaan, Reinach, O Ndungane, Lambie
Pens: Lambie 3
For the Bulls:
Pens: Fouché 2
Yellow card: Jean Deysel (Sharks, 66 – repeated infringements at the maul), Bjorn Basson (Bulls, 79 – professional foul, deliberate knock-down)