Currie Cup

Bulls and Sharks in Currie Cup play-offs: A story of black and white domination

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Bulls v Sharks. (Gallo Images)
Bulls v Sharks. (Gallo Images)
  • Sharks/Bulls play-off encounters have never been pretty, but always full of drama.
  • The 1990 final was the start of it all where the Sharks, led by Craig Jamieson, upset the Loftus Versfeld faithful with a famous win.
  • The Bulls will be happy to be at Loftus as they’ve been highly unsuccessful at Kings Park.

For teams who have built up a rivalry since the surprise 1990 final, the Sharks and the Bulls haven’t always met at the Currie Cup’s business end.

The three finals they’ve played in have been unforgettable, but that’s been pretty much it from a finals perspective.

They have met in two semi-finals, but one has to go back to 2012 for the last time the Sharks and the Bulls met in a play-off where the Sharks kept up their impeccable record.

Some of their play-off games have been magical, some not noteworthy while the most recent saw a flyhalf rivalry between Pat Lambie and Morne Steyn that Lambie dominated.

Lambie has retired, but Steyn still has a chance to exact some vengeance against the team that’s given him a fair bit of Currie Cup play-off grief.

Here’s some of their famous encounters:

1990 final: Bulls 12-18 Sharks at Loftus Versfeld

They were still known as Northern Transvaal and Natal respectively at this time, but the latter was celebrating its centenary. The Durbanites made it special by beating a star-studded Bulls side that scored the game’s first try through Gerbrand Grobler. The Sharks though weren’t about giving up and when Tony Watson scored his now storied try that was followed up by Joel Stransky’s long range penalty, the upset was sealed. The Bulls would win the following year’s tournament, but the early 1990s would belong to the Sharks and the Lions, who contested the 1992, 1993 and 1996 finals. After 1991, the Bulls would next get to a final in 1998 where they beat Western Province at Loftus Versfeld.

2003 final: Bulls 40-19 Sharks at Loftus Versfeld

If South African rugby didn’t know about Ettienne Botha, they did so in this game. The inside centre was a constant menace, scoring two tries in what became a rout. However, this game was more significant for the proper arrival of one Fourie du Preez. The then young scrumhalf delivered a match-management masterclass that became a trademark of his 76-Test career. It was also poignant that in a year when Joost van der Westhuizen bowed out of rugby, a quality halfback more than filled his boots. The Bulls’ domestic rugby hegemony was well and truly setting root with three consecutive finals appearances. As for the Sharks, they’d miss out on the 2004 and 2005 playoffs while falling at the semi-final stage in 2006 and 2007.

2008 final: Sharks 14-9 Bulls at Kings Park

A 12-year thirst for Currie Cup success was finally quenched by the Sharks, who outscored and outmuscled the Bulls. Under John Plumtree, who was part of the 1990-winning squad, the Sharks were a well-drilled outfit with an excellent balance between forwards and backs. It was the Grey College duo of Ruan Pienaar and Frans Steyn whose tries were the difference as Steyn’s boot wasn’t able to resuscitate the Bulls.

2010 semi-final: Sharks 16-12 Bulls at Kings Park

These teams were well matched, but the young Pat Lambie quietly announced himself with three penalties and a conversion in a very tight game. The Bulls had four penalties from Steyn but didn’t have an answer to Keegan Daniel’s second minute try. The aesthetic value of this game was low, but this game resembled a Test match that the Sharks deservedly went on to win while going one better the following week by winning the tournament.

2012 semi-final: Sharks 20-3 Bulls at Kings Park

Nothing went right for the Bulls in this game, especially when prop Morne Mellet was yellow-carded for an unnecessary trip on Pat Lambie. Steyn was still around and was still the main Springbok man, but Lambie outpointed and outplayed him. The Bulls were at the end of the cycle with their players not quite at the level of their predecessors. Lambie’s five penalties were met by one from Steyn, while Lwazi Mvovo’s try received no response from the Bulls. History didn’t repeat itself in the final as Lambie was upstaged by Demetri Catrakilis, who booted Western Province to a first final win since 2001.

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