The Sharks tasted defeat for the first time this season when they went down 23-19 to the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday, reports SIMON BORCHARDT.
Jake White's side came into this fixture having won their first four matches, but those had all been Kings Park. In front of an excellent crowd at Loftus, they went into the break with a seven-point lead, but conceded two second-half tries to a fired up Bulls team that grew in confidence.
The Sharks will lament the loss of their halfbacks to injury in the opening 15 minutes, but Tim Swiel did a good job at flyhalf and Charl McLeod is a quality scrumhalf replacement, so to blame the loss on that would be unfair to the Bulls.
Lambie left the field in the seventh minute after hurting his arm while trying to tackle Jan Serfontein. That saw Frans Steyn take the first shot at goal, but his penalty attempt went well wide.
The resultant 22 drop-out was collected by JP Pietersen just inside the Sharks half, and Cobus Reinach darted away from the ruck. The scrumhalf threw a dummy before being brought down just outside the Bulls 22 and getting a pass away to S’bura Sithole, who came within a few metres of the tryline. The Sharks then sent the ball out to the left, and Ryan Kankowski's pass in the tackle put Willem Alberts in for the first try, which Swiel converted.
Jacques-Louis Potgieter got the Bulls on the board with a penalty in the 15th minute – as McLeod came on for Reinach – and then slotted a drop goal.
With eight minutes remaining in the first half, an excellent 60m kick from Francois Hougaard set up a Sharks lineout 5m out from their tryline. Paul Willemse poached the ball, but Jürgen Visser couldn't take Hougaard's pass close to the line two phases later and the try-scoring opportunity was squandered.
Steyn then kicked two long-range penalties to give the visitors a 13-6 lead at the break.
But the Bulls levelled the scores seven minutes into the second half when Jacques du Plessis received possession from a ruck and burst through the tackle attempts of Beast Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis to score under the posts.
They then took the lead after Bjorn Basson broke through the Sharks defence. The Bulls forwards bashed away at the line a couple times before the ball went wide to Potgieter, whose long pass found JJ Engelbrecht on the left touchline. The midfielder strolled over and Potgieter nailed the conversion.
However, another two penalties from Steyn narrowed the gap to just one point with 10 minutes to go, and he then kicked a drop goal that went just wide.
Potgieter left the field injured in the 75th minute and his replacement, Handré Pollard, slotted an easy penalty that meant the Sharks had to score a try to win. They didn't come close to doing so.
Bulls – Tries: Jacques du Plessis, JJ Engelbrecht. Conversions: Jacque-Louis Potgieter (2). Penalty: Potgieter, Handré Pollard. Drop goal: Potgieter.
Sharks – Try: Willem Alberts. Conversion: Tim Swiel. Penalties: Frans Steyn (4).
Bulls – 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Marcel vd Merwe, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Handré Pollard, 22 Ulrich Beyers, 23 Morné Mellet.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 André Esterhuizen.
Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix