The Vodacom Blue Bulls saw off a spirited challenge from the Sharks to secure a crucial 17-13 win in Durban on Friday night. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
In a relatively low-scoring affair, the Bulls managed to end a two-match losing streak, but they were far from convincing, despite dominating large periods of the match. In the end, though, they boosted their chances of earning the right to host a semi-final in a few weeks' time.
For the Sharks, a fifth defeat of a disappointing season has left them with a mountain to climb if they somehow hope to sneak into the play-offs.
The Bulls dominated possession in the opening quarter, but failed to convert that ascendancy into points, with Sharks flyhalf Joe Pietersen knocking over a couple of penalties to put the home side into an early lead.
However, a penalty from Bulls pivot Tian Schoeman and a converted try from winger Jamba Ulengo just before half-time enabled the team from Pretoria to take a four-point lead into the break.
The Bulls then extended that advantage when flanker Deon Stegmann scored from the back of a driving lineout in the 56th minute, but the Sharks almost immediately hit back when replacement Garth April finished off an opportunistic try.
Yet, it would be the visitors who would emerge victorious as they held out for an unattractive win.
Sharks – Try: Garth April. Conversion: Joe Pietersen. Penalties: Pietersen (2).
Blue Bulls – Tries: Jamba Ulengo, Deon Stegmann. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (2). Penalty: Schoeman.
Sharks – 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 S’bura Sithole, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Philip van der Walt (c), 7 Christiaan de Bruin, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Dave McDuling, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Gerhard Engelbrecht, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Marco Wentzel, 19 Jean Deysel, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 Heimar Williams, 22 Garth April.
Blue Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jan Serfontein, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Lappies Labuschagne (c), 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 RG Snyman, 19 Ruan Steenkamp, 20 Ivan van Zyl, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Dries Swanepoel.
Photo: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images