Sharks demolish Bulls
The Sharks produced one of their best performances in years to wallop the Vodacom Bulls 32-10 and make a massive statement about their ambitions to get into the Super Rugby playoffs.
The victory was huge in more ways than one, as it effectively settled the South African conference in the favour of the Stormers, who are virtually assured of the South African title before they have even played the Cheetahs on Saturday.
But more than that, it put a major dent in the ambitions of the Bulls ahead of a congested final week of the competition, and raised even more questions about their ability in the title race.
The Sharks, it must be said, knew they had no other option but to perform. But what they produced would have surprised their own supporters as much as it did the Bulls. It was a fiery performance worthy of the scoreline, built on physical dominance up front and the ability to pounce on the Bulls' mistakes.
There is a belief that they perform the best when they are faced with being eliminated, but the Sharks certainly showed that with one option available, they can produce the goods to defeat any side.
The defeat does not end the Bulls’ hopes, but it does severly dent their hopes of ending fourth, and means that even if they win their final game next week against the Lions, they will most likely have to travel abroad for a playoff.
Still, in a South African context, it means that a three team scenario in the playoff rounds is more likely, and given the Sharks' form on the night, if they can repeat it, they will always have a chance of advancing.
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The victory was built around three first-half tries that killed off the Bulls' hopes, but even when the visitors managed to find some composure in the second half, they looked rattled, and made harsh mistakes, hardly the type that you’d expect from a side that at the start of the game was in the top four on the log.
With the bonus point they earned, and given the fact that the Bulls took nothing from the game, both sides are now on 54 points and are likely to travel if they win their final games against the Lions and Cheetahs respectively.
It was one way traffic in the first half and while the Bulls had hoped for better, they were soon on the backfoot as the Sharks pounded their line in the opening minutes before they finally broke through in the 12th minute as Bismarck du Plessis produced a powerful burst to power over the line.
In terms of his play, Du Plessis was a colossus. The hooker has got to be the best in the world right now and his much anticipated battle with Chiliboy Ralepelle, who ran on for his 50th game, was a one-sided affair.
The Bulls managed to pull a penalty back through Morne Steyn’s boot, but it was all the Sharks as they went further ahead after producing nine phases of play before JP Pietersen managed to stroll over in the corner through an overlap.
At 17-3 it was hard to believe the Bulls were the higher placed side on the log but a Frederic Michalak penalty made it 20-3.
The Bulls almost got one back when Akona Ndungane went in at the corner, but a wonderful tackle by Lwazi Mvovo kept him out.
Being 20-3 down at the break, the Bulls thought they would run out with renewed vigour in the second half, but they were met with stern resistance from the Sharks who hacked through every loose ball.
It took another such turnover to set the Sharks on the attack, and after five phases, Keegan Daniel got the ball close to the line and twisted his way over to extend the lead.
The Bulls finally had a pass that stuck as Zane Kirchner, who was one of the few Bulls to have a decent game, sliced his way through the Sharks defence to put the Bulls into double figures.
The Bulls tried hard, but it was clear this wasn’t their night. Whatever they threw at the Sharks was met with ease, and the home side countered with aplomb, dominating almost every phase of the match.
It was no surprise that Louis Ludick had the last say with a try a minute from time.
On a night where the Bulls limped back to their hotel wondering how much their title hopes had been dented, the Sharks had given themselves a lifeline. And they will know that while they may be at the back of the charging pack, if they can produce form like this, they will certainly be in with a chance.
Sharks Tries: Bismarck du Plessis, JP Pietersen, Keegan Daniels, Louis Ludik . Conversions: Frederic Michalak (2), Meyer Bosman. . Penalties: Francois Steyn, Frederic Michalak
Bulls – Try: Zane Kirchner. Conversion: Morne Steyn. Penalty: Morne Steyn