Sharks, Bulls serve up high quality thriller

2008-09-07 00:00

TAKE two talented, ambitious and astutely-coached teams on a perfect afternoon for rugby, mix in a dozen current Springboks, garnish it with an international referee, add dollops of incentive and then sit back and savour a Currie Cup rugby match of the highest quality.

Those were the ingredients of a spectacular and frenetic contest between the top-of-the-log Sharks and the Blue Bulls at King’s Park on Saturday, one which ebbed and flowed but finally sent the crowd home with the victory even the most optimistic coach would not have scripted.

The pity was that a disappointingly small crowd of under 30 000 were there to see the Sharks, down 25-17 with 15 minutes remaining, provide a fairytale finish with a rush of 17 points — and a fourth, bonus point try — for a 34-25 win.

The Sharks are now three points clear at the top of the Currie Cup log and they are in pole position to host a semi-final. There are still four hurdles to negotiate, with their bogey team Free State at King’s Park on Saturday and the Lions at Ellis Park on September 27 the most testing.

The eight tries on Saturday were shared by the two teams, but the Sharks won, in the end, because Ruan Pienaar kicked his goals and the Bulls’ Morne Steyn did not.

Both the Blue Bulls and the Sharks agreed it was superb game of rugby.

“It shows what we can do in this country with the talent we have,” said Bulls captain Victor Matfield. “It was close and hard. We did not take our chances and the Sharks did.”

His coach Frans Ludeke agreed:

“It was very even and neither side dominated any area. But at this level it is all about taking opportunities and we dropped the ball with an open line and missed a lot of kicks.”

Sharks coach John Plumtree described the contest as “one heck of a game of rugby.”

“It must have been something special for the spectators, but it was stressful for the coaches.

This was a very big win.”

Plumtree admitted that luck had played a role in the second half.

“The Bulls fullback (Tiger Mangweni) dropped the ball in front of an open line and Morne Steyn doesn’t often miss that many kicks.

“But I’m proud of the way the guys kept going and that was very encouraging.”

Man-of-the-match went to Ruan Pienaar, but it should have gone to Sharks fullback Stefan Terblanche who was heavily involved from the start, as the Bulls kept kicking to him. His positional play was excellent, he fielded the high kicks bravely, counter-attacked strongly and then, running and drawing Bryan Habana, he made a try for Odwa Ndungane and then scored one of his own.

There were many other strong performances across the park on both sides. Bulls centre Wynand Olivier, rediscovering the form which made him a Springbok, carved up the Sharks midfield on a couple of occasions, fashioned the first try for midfield partner Marius Delport after shrugging off a high tackle from Francois Steyn and then scored two tries himself in the second half.

Flank Jacques Botes was heavily involved in a committed Sharks pack, there were some deft touches from Frederic Michalak and replacement Pietersen had one of his better games this season.

Plumtree said that he was concerned about a couple of defensive lapses, particularly in midfield, and a number of turnovers, “though the Bulls pack is big and strong.”

He said Brad Barritt, who collapsed in a heap after taking a solid blow to the head, would be back soon, while lock Alaistair Hargreaves (torn calf muscle) is out for a couple of weeks. Boks Beast Mtawarira, Ryan Kankowski and Adrian Jacobs should all return for the Free State match this weekend, he added.

The 30 000 odd spectators will surely also be back, looking for another Saturday afternoon treat.

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