The Vodacom Bulls produced a clinical and composed performance to claim a 41-14 bonus-point victory over the Sharks at Loftus on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
The fragility of the competition was brought into the spotlight earlier in the day when the clash between the Cheetahs and Lions was called off due to Covid-19 protocols, but this headline fixture of the weekend in Pretoria would at least prove to be compelling viewing.
This was far closer to a contest with Super Rugby intensity, with the Sharks initially making a strong statement at scrum time, while the Bulls responded with strong contesting at the lineout, which sent this set piece into meltdown for the visitors.
As usual, the Sharks relied heavily on a prolific kicking game in the first half, but didn’t quite reap the turnover rewards as the Bulls enjoyed ascendancy in terms of possession and, indeed, territory.
In the lead-up to this encounter, Bulls coach Jake White had also called for more rhythm and cohesion on attack, which duly came in the form of two well-worked tries by Stedman Gans and Marco van Staden, which helped establish a handy 17-9 half-time lead.
Coming out after the break, it was clear the Sharks were looking to change their approach to take the ball through a few more phases with direct carries and better support from those cleaning out at the breakdown, but there was also a natural case of risk versus reward as the Durbanites chased the game.
As it was, Gans and Van Staden both bagged their second tries as the Bulls powered into a commanding 31-14 lead heading into the final quarter, with the home team’s physicality on defence adding to the pressure that was building on the Sharks.
Late in the game, rain, thunder and lightning arrived in Pretoria, with any hopes of a Sharks comeback emphatically doused as the Bulls rumbled to a fully-deserved victory with two more tries at the death.
Bulls – Tries: Stedman Gans (2), Marco van Staden (2), Marco Jansen van Vuren, Embrose Papier. Conversions: Morne Steyn (4). Penalty: Steyn.
Sharks – Try: Dylan Richardson. Penalties: Curwin Bosch (3).
Bulls: 15 David Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Joe van Zyl, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren.
Sharks: 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (c), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Werner Kok, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Phendulani Buthelezi, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Dylan Richardson, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Yaw Penxe.