Sharks crash as ‘smart adjustments’ send Bulls into play-offs

2014-03-24 00:00

THE Sharks were brought back down to Earth with a thud on Saturday when they lost a close game to the Bulls 23-19 in front of a passionate Loftus Versfeld crowd.

The Sharks, who remain at the top of the South African Conference and overall log, had gone into the game looking to win their fifth consecutive Super Rugby game, but that quest first began looking difficult when they lost half back pair Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach to injury in the first seven minutes of the game.

For so long, Sharks coach Jake White has emphasised the importance of a nine and 10 for sides that have gone on to win the Super Rugby title. Mentioning names such as Justin Marshall and Andrew Merthens, George Gregan and Stephen Larkham and Reds duo Will Genia and Quade Cooper, White has always maintained the importance of Lambie and Reinach.

White felt that losing his halfback pairing so early on made things difficult for them against a Bulls team that were always a motivated outfit in front of their home fans.

“If you lose your nine and 10 literally in the first seven minutes of the game it is always going to be tough, but we aren’t to make any excuses,” White said after the game.

“The Bulls were good, they took all their chances and they defended well, they went hard at the breakdown and made it hard for us.”

With the win, their third in a row, the Bulls have just announced to the rest of the competition that they are back in contention having played themselves into the play-off places.

“If you get a win against the Sharks, the way we played, it is a good reward for us and playing against a side that is on top of their game,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said after the match.

“A lot of things we worked on over the last few weeks came through. Victor [Matfield] made a few smart adjustments to our attack in the week and it paid off for us today.”

The Sharks’ lead at the top is now just two points, and they will face another test next week in fellow title hopefuls, the Waratahs. The competition’s top try scorer so far, Israel Folau, and Kurtley Beale were in sensational form on Friday for the Australian outfit and will look to carry on that run against White’s charges.

They will be back at King’s Park for the clash, and will look to keep their 100% home record intact before they go on the road again – to Bloemfontein – then play another two games at home before going down under for games against the Rebels, Brumbies, Crusaders and the Blues.

SCORERS

Bulls: 23

Tries: Jacques du Plessis, JJ Engelbrecht

Conversions: Jacque-Louis Potgieter (2)

Penalties: Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Hendre Pollard

Drop goal: Jacques-Louis Potgieter

Sharks: 19

Try: Willem Alberts

Conversion: Tim Swiel

Penalties: Frans Steyn (4).

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