The Cell C Sharks enjoyed a second-half surge to pip the Vodacom Bulls 35-28 in their Carling Currie Cup clash at Jonsson Kings Park in Durban on Friday night.
The Durban-based side scored four tries to three in their bonus-point win to go top of the log ahead of their opponents in a game of two very distinct halves.
The Sharks, after a dismal home defeat against Tafel Lager Griquas last week, looked to be playing in much the same disjointed vein for most of the first half against the log leaders, conceding 11 penalties to two offered by the visitors who really ought to have been further ahead than the seven-point margin (20-13) they enjoyed at the break.
The Bulls went straight onto the attack at the start, and flanker Elrich Louw went over in the fourth minute after a maul on the Sharks’ line. With Johan Goosen converting, the visitors looked in a dominant mood.
It was a surprise when the Sharks, on their first sally into the Bulls’ half, struck back following a darting run from their excellent scrumhalf Grant Williams.
From the ensuing maul, lock Le Roux Roets bullocked his way over for a try next to the posts. With flyhalf Lionel Cronje adding the points, the home team were, somewhat fortuitously, level.
Undaunted, the Bulls continued to camp in the Sharks’ half, with their forwards continuing to dominate in the scrums and tight-loose.
Goosen punished the Sharks for collapsing a scrum with another penalty but Cronje quickly replied with one of his own as the home side regained parity.
A quick shower made handling difficult for both sides as the game became scrappy, but the Bulls still dominated territory and possession and it was no surprise when prop Lizo Gqoboka was deemed by the TMO to have touched down after a maul on the Sharks’ line.
The Sharks continued to cough up penalties and eventually referee Marius van der Westhuizen lost patience and gave flanker Dylan Richardson a yellow card for an infringement. With Goosen kicking the resultant penalty the Bulls had put daylight between themselves and their opponents (20-10).
TURNABOUT IN FORTUNES
In a rare incursion into the Bulls’ half, however, the Sharks earned a penalty for a high tackle after a multi-phase movement and Cronje duly kicked the penalty to reduce the score to a flattering 13-20 at the break.
The turning point in the match came five minutes into the second half when Williams went on a dancing, spinning run that almost earned him a spectacular solo try.
Although he just failed to touch down, the Sharks profited with a yellow card given to Stedman Gens for cynical play.
Suddenly the home team looked unrecognisable from their disorganised selves in the first half as hooker Kerron van Vuuren burst over after pressure on the Bulls line in the 48th minute.
Cronje’s conversion drew the home team level and it soon got better for the Sharks when a brilliant move down the blind side between Thaakir Abrahams and Williams resulted in the scrumhalf diving over.
Although Cronje missed the conversion the Sharks quickly scored again when Werner Kok’s grubber was not controlled by Goosen over his line and Murray Kosta followed up to touch down.
The Sharks now had their bonus-point try and a 12-point lead after an almost bewildering turnabout in fortunes. With Cronje, who played an excellent game at flyhalf, marshalling their forces, the home team were now taking the game to the Bulls.
To their credit, however, the visitors never gave up and as the match drew to a close they searched desperately for a bonus point.
Sharks’ replacement Thembelani Bholi received a yellow card for continued infringements with five minutes to go and the Bulls promptly profited when Arno Botha plunged over.
And then, on the whistle, replacement flyhalf Chris Smith kicked the penalty that gave the visitors a bonus point which may become important as the competition develops.
Sharks (13) 35 – Tries:Le Roux Roets, Kerron van Vuuren, Grant Williams, Murray Koster; Conversions:Lionel Cronje (3); Penalties:Cronje (3)
Bulls (20) 28 – Tries:Elrigh Louw, Lizo Gqoboka, Arno Botha; Conversions:Johan Goosen (2); Penalties:Goosen (2), Chris Smith © MWP