The Sharks kicked off their Vodacom Super Rugby campaign with a 31-16 bonus-point win against the Bulls at Kings Park, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The humid conditions so typical of Durban at this time of the year made handling difficult and resulted in a high error rate from both sides.
The Bulls had their fair share of possession and territory, but silly mistakes and a solid Sharks' defence restricted them to just one try, late in the game. The visitors played traditional Bulls rugby, but the wet ball made mauling difficult and Francois Hougaard's kicking game was poor.
The Sharks fed off scraps in the first half but took all three try-scoring opportunities that came their way, and then grabbed a fourth in the 83rd minute.
The match began with a Pat Lambie penalty and Louis Fouché drop goal, before a set-piece move from a lineout on halfway resulted in a Sharks try. Lwazi Mvovo came off his wing, took a pass from Lambie in midfield and broke through the defence before sending Paul Jordaan over in the corner. Lambie missed the touchline conversion.
Fouché was then successful with his first penalty attempt but missed his second.
The Sharks' second try came in controversial circumstances when a Sharks hand appeared to knock the ball forward out of Paul Willemse's hands at a lineout. Francois Hougaard failed to control the wet ball and Cobus Reinach snapped it up to score. Lambie again missed the conversion, but kicked a penalty to make it 16-6.
The Bulls had 60% possession in the first half but couldn't make it count. At one stage, trailing 13-6, they opted on three occasions to kick the ball to touch, and had they come away with a try it could have been a different game.
However, they did get another three points from Fouché and when Pierre Spies forced a turnover inside the Bulls' 22, with time up, it looked as if just seven points would separate the sides at the break. But Reinach ripped the ball away from Spies and sent it wide to Frans Steyn, whose cross-kick saw Odwa Ndungane score in the right-hand corner.
Victor Matfield made his return to Super Rugby when he came off the bench in the 45th minute, and 10 minutes later Hougaard was replaced by Piet van Zyl.
Jean Deysel was yellow-carded with 14 minutes to go, after he came in from the side of a maul. Soon after, the Bulls won a lineout and Jono Ross went over from the driving maul.
A deliberate knockdown from Bjorn Basson with a minute remaining saw the winger yellow-carded and gave the Sharks one last chance to score a bonus-point try. And it was one they took, with Lambie going over out wide after a sustained attack.
Sharks – Tries: Lwazi Mvovo, Cobus Reinach, Odwa Ndungane, Pat Lambie. Conversion: Lambie. Penalties: Lambie (3).
Bulls – Try: Jono Ross. Conversion: Handré Pollard. Penalties: Louis Fouché (2). Drop goal: Fouché.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 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 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 S’bura Sithole.
Bulls – 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images