Bulls take a semi to Loftus

Date published: May 18 2009

The Bulls will play the Crusaders in a Super 14 semi-final after downing the Sharks 27-26 in the last Super 14 league match in Durban on Saturday.

The Bulls will play the Crusaders in a Super 14 semi-final after downing the Sharks 27-26 in the last Super 14 league match in Durban on Saturday.

In a helter-skelter match the Bulls proved themselves the more clinical of the two sides to take their opportunities, while the Sharks eventually let desperation become their own worst enemy.

It was a match all set up for drama long before the kick-off. The home side needing four tries as well as a win, not to mention enacting a satisfying bite of revenge for the Super 14 final heartbreak two years go.

The Bulls needed to win to bring both the potential final and a certain semi-final back to Loftus – a scenario that had even New Zealand's hardiest pundits confessing their concern during the week before.

Two sides with huge previous chasing a win, both fighting for their futures in this year's competition. A huge occasion. It didn't disappoint.

Right from the off the Sharks were hitting their straps, forcing a couple of early free-kicks out of referee Craig Joubert who did everything he could to keep the flow of the breathless game. Each was tapped. A penalty followed. That went to touch in the corner. Victor Matfield stole the ball. The cycle was repeated.

First round to the Bulls, but there was a casualty of the war, as Wynand Oliver limped off with a knee injury. Later in the game, Ruan Pienaar was carried off as well, an occurrence which will have done nothing for Peter de Villiers' state of mind.

Second round to the Bulls as well though, as a spell of heavy pressure yielded a soft blindside try for Zane Kirchner, converted by the deadeye Morne Steyn.

Back came the Sharks and nearly sucker-punched. Tendai Mtawarira – the Beast to you and I – burst through and lunged for the line but had the ball dashed from his grasp by Bakkies Botha.

The home side kept the pressure on. JP Nel was yellow-carded for a swinging high tackle and there could have been another yellow card for either of the subsequent penalty offences at the breakdown as the Sharks forwards piled in. But at a scrum, the Bulls turned it over.

Then Kirchner had a kick charged down by Stefan Terblanche but Bismarck du Plessis fumbled the offload. Odwa Ndungane chipped over the Bulls defence but Adrian Jacobs was unable either to gather it or hack it ahead well enough to score.

Deon Stegmann was then sent to the bin for yet another breakdown offence and then the Sharks did score, with Keegan Daniel finally finishing off a move.

It wasn't the last word of the first half, as Steyn landed a drop goal with the final kick of the half to leave it at 10-5 at the break.

The teams came out for the second half as though the first 40 had been last week, tearing into each other with speed and muscle.

But the guile came from the Sharks, who notched two tries in three minutes to put them right in pole position.

First Odwa Ndungane finished off on the right just as Kirchner had for the Bulls in the first half, then came one of the tries of the season with Pienaar, Beast, Terblanche and Ndungane all combining thrillingly down the right and lock Steven Sykes popping up for the final pass.

Kockott converted both tries for a 19-10 lead which might in ordinary circumstances have been a winning position, but playing against this Bulls team is no ordinary circumstance.

As befits potential champions, they scored immediately to drag themselves back into the game, with Pierre Spies making the initial thrust on the right and Akona Ndungane finishing on the left.

Then Steyn landed a drop goal to nudge his side back in front – in the final reckoning, those two drop goals made a massive difference, coming when they did.

The Sharks ran and ran, but when Pienaar was carried off, much of the direction went with him. Steyn pumped the ball back time and time again into the Sharks' half, asking Terblanche and his wingers to run and run from deep. It was exhausting to watch them try and you could feel the energy draining.

Danie Rossouw drove home the killer dagger with five minutes remaining, stretching out of a tackle to plonk the ball over the line and Steyn landed a conversion to take his side more than two scores in front.

The Sharks ran and ran some more, rewarded with a final-minute try by Kankowski. Kockott raced back and drop-goaled a sweet conversion to try and buy some precious seconds. It was all to no avail. Four tries the home side got, but two points short of the win that would have taken them into the semi-finals. The Bulls are now at home for the play-offs – this Super 14 is theirs for the taking.

Man of the match: You'd ordinarily give it to the winning side, but Stefan Terblanche did so much dealing with kicks from Morne Steyn and running his lines on attack. A remarkable performance from a 33-year-old.

The scorers:
For the Sharks:
Daniel, Ndungane, Sykes, Kankowski
Cons: Kockott 3

For the Bulls:
Kirchner, Ndungane, Rossouw
Cons: Steyn 3
Drop goals: Steyn 2

Yellow cards: Nel (24, Bulls dangerous tackle), Stegmann (35, Bulls, backchat)

Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Johann Muller (c), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 John Smit, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Jannie du Plessis, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Charl McLeod, 21 Monty Dumond, 22 Andries Strauss.

Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JP Nel, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bryan Habana; 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Derick Kuün, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Danie Rossouw, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Heini Adams, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Jaco Pretorius.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Touch judges: Phillip Bosch (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)