Bulls narrowly edge past Sharks in a thriller at Loftus
This was a rip roaring affair in which fortunes fluctuated wildly until the Bulls took the game by the scruff in the final quarter.
They stood up to the rejuvenated Sharks, and while they didn’t replicate their performance of last month in Durban, they kept the visitors at arm’s length on Saturday.
While the Bulls were physically up for the challenge, their tactical nous helped set them aside.
They found space by applying the grubber to get behind the Sharks’ defence, but it was their exploitation of the cross kick, even in their own half, towards Makazole Mapimpi that earned them significant gains.
The Bulls’ confidence on the ball and greater appreciation of space meant the Sharks were always prone in unstructured play. Functioning set pieces are also hugely reassuring.
It was a helter-skelter first half with the Bulls landing the more telling blows, but the Sharks counter punched well in the last quarter of that half to stay within touching distance at the turn around.
While the Bulls didn’t shirk their responsibilities at close quarters, they were again adept at finding space around congested areas.
Snyman, Adriaan Strauss and Roelof Smit probed those areas and it helped the Bulls get onto the front foot.
Lood de Jager, Marco van Staden and RG Snyman rather relished the confrontation of the visitors’ combative pack.
At the back the restoration of Jesse Kriel’s reputation continued, but it was Warrick Gelant that continued to torment the Sharks. He scored three tries against them in the wet in Durban and he set the ball rolling here.
The Sharks however, have been barely recognisable since the Bulls humbled them in Durban last month, and that hardened resolve showed when they were knocked onto the backfoot here.
They applied the sledgehammer after the break as they bashed away at the Bulls’ nearest defenders. Thomas du Toit, Akker van der Merwe and Jean-Luc du Preez grew more determined in their stride.
The Sharks’ eked out the metres and that territorial ascendancy was paying off, albeit with the help of the errant hosts.
The Bulls, arguably the fittest team in their conference, upped the ante and finished stronger
Earlier though, ill-discipline played its part. With the Bulls surged upfield Curwin Bosch stuck out his right leg which served to trip up the racing Gelant.
The onfield officials missed the cheeky indiscretion which increasingly alarmed the home crowd after the Sharks turned over possession surge upfield to ‘score’.
Bosch happened to be the recipient of the final pass but upon visual review of the evidence the miscreant was duly fingered and sent to the bin.
It proved costly as the Bulls scored off the resultant penalty when justice was served in the form of a Gelant touchdown.
If Bosch’s binning was crucial, so too was the sanction handed down to RG Snyman after a late shoulder charge on Cameron Wright. Shoulder charges aren’t by definition innocuous but this one came close.