The Currie Cup title race was reignited after the Sharks claimed a thrilling 32-29 victory over the Vodacom Bulls in Durban on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The result reduced the Bulls’ lead at the top of the Currie Cup standings to just four points, after the men from Pretoria entered the weekend sitting comfortably with eight points between them and the now second-placed Sharks.
It was also the Bulls’ first loss since they were narrowly beaten by the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in the second round of Super Rugby Unlocked and brought an end to their six-game unbeaten run.
The game was not without its controversy, though, as the SuperSport panel suggested that Marius Louw was lucky to escape a red card for a clash of heads after colliding with Morne Steyn when chasing a kick. Referee Marius van der Westhuizen decided that the infringement was only worth a yellow card, which is debatable when one considers that Jacques van Rooyen was sent off a couple of weeks ago for a lesser infringement.
Speaking of Van Rooyen, he was in the headlines again as Van der Westhuizen decided to send him to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle on Henco Venter. Again, the decision was debatable, especially considering that Van Rooyen had started the tackle very low and Venter dipped into contact. In reaction, Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen asked if the players should just start playing touch rugby, which demonstrates just how frustrated the players are with the inconsistency of application of World Rugby’s high-tackle framework.
Away from the controversial talking points, which will no doubt dominate the headlines, the clash in Durban was really entertaining, as would be expected from what are South Africa’s two best teams at the moment.
The Sharks were able to take a 14-9 lead into half time thanks to three penalties from Curwin Bosch and a spectacular try from returning captain Lukhanyo Am, who latched on to an offload from Manie Libbok and sprinted clear to score. It could have been 19-9, but the TMO spotted that Dan Jooste had committed an infringement when he grounded the ball over the line after the half-time hooter.
The scrum battle between the two teams was fiercely contested and the Sharks did really well to continue fighting even though they lost Springbok tighthead Thomas du Toit to injury in the early stages of the second half.
Bosch slotted his fourth penalty to extend the Sharks’ lead to eight points, but the Bulls got themselves right back into the contest when Marco van Staden reached over from close range to make it a one-point game. The Bulls then took the lead when Morne Steyn kicked his fourth penalty (19-17).
The momentum of the match shifted in the Bulls’ favour from there as the Sharks started to struggle under the kicking pressure from the visitors’ halfbacks. Steyn made it 22-17 with his fifth penalty of the match, but Bosch responded with a penalty of his own to keep the Sharks in touch.
The Bulls then laid a telling blow when they won the ball back near the Sharks 22 and spread it wide, exploiting an overlap to have Cornal Hendricks score and make it a nine-point game in the final 20 minutes. The Sharks made a big call when they turned down a kickable penalty in the Bulls 22, opting for a maul which paid off when replacement hooker Kerron van Vuuren scored, but Bosch hit the poles with his conversion, making it a four-point differential.
Bosch then pulled the big play out of the bag, when he put in a pin-point cross-field kick, which was gathered by Yaw Penxe, who latched on to the ball and scored. The Sharks flyhalf then held his composure to slot the conversion despite the wind.
In a dramatic conclusion, the Bulls won a scrum penalty after the hooter, giving Steyn a chance to get them a draw, but the veteran uncharacteristically fluffed his lines, leaving the Sharks celebrating.
Sharks – Tries: Lukhanyo Am, Kerron van Vuuren, Yaw Penxe. Conversion: Curwin Bosch. Penalties: Bosch (5).
Bulls – Tries: Marco van Staden, Cornal Hendricks. Conversions: Morne Steyn (2). Penalties: Steyn (5).
Sharks – 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (c), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Daniel Jooste, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Michael Kumbirai, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Thembelani Bholi, 21 Phepsi Buthelezi, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Jeremy Ward.
Bulls – 15 David Kriel, 14 Marnus Potgieter, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Arno Botha, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Schalk Erasmus, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren.