The Vodacom Bulls scored 19 unanswered points in the first half to lay the foundation for a 37-14 win over the Sharks in Pretoria on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
There were contrasting fortunes for the two teams in the third round of Vodacom Super Rugby, with the Bulls overpowering the Lions, while the Sharks succumbed to a disappointing defeat against the Stormers.
In that context, the Bulls were undeniable favourites at home, and duly produced a first-half masterclass of power and precision that ultimately set the hosts on their way to an emphatic victory.
Not for the first time this season, the Bulls won the battle up front, while denying their opponents time and space on the ball as the result of a flat, aggressive defence.
Although the Sharks did produce an improved performance in the second half, they were ultimately left with too much ground to make up after trailing 19-0 at the break.
It’s a result that sees the Bulls leapfrog the Sharks into pole position in the South African conference, and provides yet another strong indication that the Pretoria-based side could be this season’s surprise package.
The Bulls asserted some early pressure on the Sharks through a high-intensity approach, which duly earned a couple of kickable penalties that were slotted by Handré Pollard. It set the tone in fine fashion.
With the Bulls winning the gainline battle and denying the Sharks any momentum, they then produced a set-piece special as superb interplay from a solid scrum saw Cornal Hendricks and Jesse Kriel combine for the latter to score at the quarter-hour mark.
In an opening half that had been almost entirely dictated by the physicality of the home side, the Bulls were also awarded two scrum penalties before the break, with Pollard kicking them into a 19-0 lead to establish a commanding position of ascendancy.
It could have even been more, considering that Hendricks very nearly scored with the final play of the half, but just lost the ball forward with the tryline at his mercy. Nevertheless, the Bulls had every right to be beaming at the break.
Vodacom #SuperRugby – HALFTIME:
Bulls 19-0 Sharks
The Bulls have hit the ground running as they take a 1⃣9⃣ point lead going into the break against the Sharks.#SuperRugby second-half continues here >> https://t.co/3wUsZ1pF9y pic.twitter.com/7rqBBfVnyb
— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) March 9, 2019
If the Sharks were to have any hope of mounting a fightback, they needed to score first in the second half, and they did just that when Jeremy Ward dotted down next to the posts soon after the restart. Yet, just as quickly, the Bulls hit right back through Rosko Specman.
The visitors may have still felt they were in with a shout when a Dan du Preez try cut the deficit to 13 points in the 55th minute, but a couple of subsequent lineout errors haunted the Sharks in attacking positions.
The result was well and truly sealed when Pollard slotted an excellent drop goal, before Specman completed his brace to cap off another superb individual performance and a deserved win for the Bulls.
Vodacom #SuperRugby – RESULT:
Bulls 37 – 14 Sharks
The Bulls sealed a convincing victory over the Sharks at Loftus. pic.twitter.com/Vg2DwRamt5
— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) March 9, 2019
Bulls – Tries: Jesse Kriel, Rosko Specman (2). Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (5). Drop goal: Pollard.
Sharks – Tries: Jeremy Ward, Dan du Preez. Conversions: Rob du Preez (2).
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Dylan Sage, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Tim Agaba, 6 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Simpiwe Matanzima, 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Tembelani Bholi, 20 Paul Schoeman, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Sharks – 15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Sb’u Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Louis Schreuder (c), 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Wian Vosloo, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Fezokhule Mbatha, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Ruben van Heerden, 20 Phendulani Buthelezi, 21 Grant Williams, 22 André Esterhuizen, 23 Curwin Bosch.
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix