The Sharks withstood a late onslaught to secure a riveting 29-22 victory over the Vodacom Bulls in a match that produced two red cards at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
It was billed as the bigger of the two local derbies on show this weekend, but the match as a contest was far from evenly poised.
This was due to the Bulls having to play with 14 players for 69 minutes after Morne Steyn was red-carded for a dangerous tackle on Lukhanyo Am.
Referee AJ Jacobs was about to issue Steyn with a yellow card when the TMO intervened, showing several replays and confirmed that Steyn’s hit was late, made contact to the head and did so with “a high level of force”.
The evidence was enough to convince Jacobs to upgrade his initial yellow card sanction to a red.
It was a call that made the Bulls’ job infinitely more difficult, considering Steyn is the maestro around which their game is built.
Be that as it may, the Sharks cashed in on their advantage, scoring two converted tries for a 14-point lead.
As the half drew to a close, Cornal Hendricks dived over in the corner after a sustained period of pressure by the Bulls.
There was, however, still time for one last kick-off before the break and that was all Am needed to land a hammer blow on the Bulls.
The kick-off from Tito Bonilla appeared to sail directly into touch, with the Bulls players keen to let it go over the touchline and even assistant referee Rasta Rasivhenge hoisting his flag.
But Am leapt high to pluck the ball out of the air on the left-hand touchline, then executed the perfect kick and chase to score a brilliant individual effort on the stroke of half time.
Catch. Grubber. Try. 🔥
— United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) February 12, 2022
To their credit, the Bulls came out in the second half to take the fight to the Sharks. They set the tempo and controlled territory and possession and were justly rewarded with a converted try by captain Marcell Coetzee.
During the same period, the Sharks were guilty of wastefulness.
But when Makazole Mapimpi scuttled over for the Sharks’ fourth try, it looked as if the visitors were well on their way to a certain win.
Only, they weren’t. In a surprise twist, replacement Sharks scrumhalf Grant Williams was handed a red card for a head-to-head collision in his tackle on Chris Smith.
Playing with a new-found urgency, the Bulls went in search of a comeback for the ages.
In a battle of wills, it was the Bulls’ lofty attacking ambitions against the Sharks’ disciplined and patient defence in the last 20 minutes.
It took a while, but it would be the Bulls who would win that mini battle, scoring two quick-fire tries.
Both conversion attempts were well wide of target, though, and with about two minutes remaining and four points separating them, it all came down to composure and game management.
As it turned out, that was a battle the Sharks won as they pinned the Bulls down in their own 22 from the restart and won a penalty.
Captain Am instructed Curwin Bosch to line up a kick at goal and to take his time while doing so. And the replacement flyhalf did just that, sending the ball flying over the crossbar when the final hooter sounded to seal a thrilling win.