The Sharks dug deep to upset the defending champion Bulls 26-23 and book themselves a place in the Super Rugby play-offs.
The Sharks dug deep to upset the defending champion Bulls 26-23 and book themselves a place in the 2011 Super Rugby play-offs.
The match certainly lived up to its billing, with both teams throwing everything but the kitchen sink at one another from start to finish in an entralling Test match-like encounter.
The odds were against the Sharks, but the visitors played out of their skin to deny an equally determined Bulls outfit in front of a capacity crowd that were treated to a typical bruising SA derby.
The Sharks had not won in the South African capital since 2008, but did the business at Loftus Versfeld to take the last 'quarter-final' spot up for grabs.
Both sides crossed for two converted tries apiece and kicked three penalties each, but the difference proved to be a Frederic Michalak drop-goal slotted over by the Frenchman early on in the game.
How ironic that the only drop-goal of a match involving the Bulls would be the one that proved to be the three points seperating the two sides, and would see them lose at home.
The Bulls were always playing catch-up after Sharks full-back Patrick Lambie got his team on the scoreboard first with barely two minutes up on the clock with a straight-forward penalty.
Bulls pivot Morne Steyn levelled the scores 60 seconds later, but another Lambie penalty and Michalak's drop gave the visitors a well-deserved six-point lead after the Sharks duo converted pressure into points.
The hosts uncharacteristically were not as accurate as they would like to have been in the first half, as the Bulls were tamed by a ferocious Sharks onslaught.
The first try of the match came less than five minutes from half-time when Sharks flanker Keegan Daniel slipped a pass to wing JP Pietersen who sped though the Bulls line before off-loading to Sharks' skipper Stefan Terblanche who dotted down.
In staying true to Bulls traditions, the men in blue bounced back with a five-pointer of their own when speedster Gerhard van den Heever was put into space out wide by centre Wynand Olivier.
Steyn converted from out wide and the hosts went into the half-time sheds three points behind the impressive-looking Sharks (16-13), but were right back in the match.
The Bulls continued where they left off in the first half after the break as Steyn added another penalty to draw the scores level once more.
Michalak restored the Sharks' lead with a 56th-minute penalty before Lambie started a breakaway that ended with wing Lwazi Mvovo racing down the touchline – albeit after receiving a suspiciously forward pass – to score with just seven minutes left for what turned out to be the match-winner.
Not that the Bulls gave it to them on a silver platter.
From the returning kick-off the home side managed to get their hands on the ball and, with less than four minutes left to play, Francois Hougaard brought his side right back into the match with a try next to the sticks.
Steyn added the extras and gave Bulls' supporters a glimmer of hope with another three more points from the Bok pivot enough to see the three-time Super Rugby champs through to the play-offs – a draw would mean the Bulls qualify ahead of the Sharks having scored more tries during the season.
The Bulls, however, could not get the three points they needed as the Sharks pack continued to stand strong in one of the most physical matches of the season.
Tries: Van den Heever, Hougaard
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 3
Tries: Terblanche, Mvovo
Cons: Lambie, Michalak
Pens: Lambie 2, Michalak
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Gary Botha, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Danie Rossouw, 20 Fourie du Preez, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Akona Ndungane.
Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Stefan Terblanche (c), 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Gerhard Mostert, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Ross Skeate, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 Louis Ludik.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)