Jon Cardinelli

Bulls escape to take top spot

The Bulls edged the Sharks 20-19 at Loftus Versfeld to finish the penultimate round of the league stage at the top of the combined Super Rugby table, reports JON CARDINELLI.

The scoreline is misleading in that the Sharks were on top for most of this game. They dominated the collisions and had they converted more of their kicks at goal (they missed six attempts between Pat Lambie and Riaan Viljoen), they would have walked away with a well-deserved win.

In fact, Viljoen had the chance to win the game with a penalty goal right on full-time, but pushed his attempt wide.

Despite losing the battle at the gainline, the Bulls stuck to their task. The game-breaking moment arrived in the 73rd minute when Jano Vermaak scored under the posts and the flawless boot of Morné Steyn ensured the Bulls edged one point clear.

The Sharks had defended brilliantly up to that point and it was a rare lapse that led to the Bulls breaking the line and finding Vermaak for the finish.

It was a sad end for the Sharks, but a great one for the Bulls as the win allowed them to move into the No 1 position on the combined Super Rugby log.

The visitors will lament their discipline. Bismarck du Plessis was yellow-carded in the first half and Butch James was sin-binned at a crucial juncture in the second stanza.

James, the captain for this fixture, was sent from the field for a high hit on Jurgen Visser in the 73rd minute. That meant the Sharks finished the game without their leader, as well as one of their premier goal-kickers, as Lambie had limped off with an injury. The result may have been different had James, and not Viljoen, attempted that final penalty at goal.

The result will please the men from Pretoria, but there should be a fair amount of concern over the quality of their performance. The Sharks dominated at the scrum for much of the game, and it was a powerful set piece that earned Viljoen that last-ditch penalty attempt at goal.

The hosts battled to contain the likes of Marcell Coetzee and Jean Deysel at the gainline, and their lineout, normally so dominant, failed to function with the usual efficiency.

The Bulls went to the break with a 13-8 lead but failed to build on that advantage. They played themselves into promising positions but were often outdone by some determined Sharks defence.

It must be said that they had their chances to score points during the second half, but simply refused to take them. Captain Dewald Potgieter turned down three kickable penalties during that period, preferring to push for the five-pointer. They were poor decisions that so nearly cost the Bulls the contest.

As it stands, the Bulls are in a good position to finish the league in pole position and secure a home semi-final. They have edged clear of the Chiefs and a win against the Stormers at Newlands next week will guarantee that No 1 berth.

Bulls – Tries: Bjorn Basson, Jano Vermaak. Conversions: Morné Steyn (2). Penalties: Steyn (2).
Sharks – Tries: Pat Lambie, Odwa Ndungane. Penalties: Lambie (3).

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 (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten,18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Jurgen Visser, 22 Morné Mellett.

Sharks – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Pat Lambie, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Butch James (c), 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, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Jaco van Tonder.

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Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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