A Jan Serfontein try after the hooter gave the Vodacom Bulls a 43-35 bonus-point victory over the Sharks at Loftus, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
The pressure was on and the Bulls delivered, despite a late rally from the visitors. After two successive home losses, a positive result on Saturday was imperative. The Bulls were patient in their buildup play and accurate in their execution, making for a frustrating afternoon for the Sharks.
Gary Gold's side may have reason to feel aggrieved by one or two decisions from referee Jaco van Heerden and the TMO, but their discipline and defence around the rucks let them down in the end.
Excellent goal-kicking from Pat Lambie kept the Sharks in the match, but a 75th-minute penalty from Tian Schoeman, on Super Rugby debut, decided the outcome, before Serfontein's late try added some gloss to the scoreline.
The buildup of the match surrounded Victor Matfield and his ability to continue to make an impact at this level. His response would've pleased Frans Ludeke and Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, as he disrupted the Sharks lineout on a number of occasions and generally made a nuisance of himself.
The Bulls were also much-improved at the breakdown, allowing them to take the ball through numerous phases and apply pressure on the Sharks' shaky defence. Rudy Paige, in for the ineffective Piet van Zyl, had a hand in two of the Bulls tries with his ability to draw the man before finding the pass.
Deon Stegmann's try just prior to half-time gave the Bulls a seven-point lead and, following another try from Pierre Spies midway through the second half, the Bulls looked to be well in control.
However, an opportunistic try from Cobus Reinach and two penalties from Lambie briefly gave the Sharks hope of claiming an unlikely victory in a match they trailed in from the first minute.
It was not to be, though, and Serfontein's late try sees the Sharks heading back to Durban with no log points, despite their contribution to an enthralling encounter. For the Bulls, the bonus-point victory might be just the tonic to get their season underway, and they now find themselves level on points with the Sharks after three rounds.
Bulls – Tries: Francois Hougaard, Deon Stegmann, Pierre Spies, Jan Serfontein. Conversions: Handré Pollard (3), Tian Schoeman. Penalties: Pollard (4), Schoeman.
Sharks – Tries: Ryan Kankowski, Cobus Reinach. Conversions: Pat Lambie (2). Penalties: Lambie (7).
Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Morné Mellett.
Subs: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Hanro Liebenberg, 21 Tian Schoeman, 22 Travis Ismaiel, 23 Jürgen Visser.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Marco Wentzel, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Jack Wilson.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images