The Bulls moved to the top of the Super Rugby standings on Saturday thanks to a nail-biting 20-19 victory over the Sharks in Pretoria.
The Bulls moved to the top of the Super Rugby standings on Saturday thanks to a nail-biting 20-19 victory over the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld.
With just one round of the regular season left, the Bulls will travel to Newlands to face the Stormers next week with a two-point lead over the Chiefs and four over the Brumbies in the race for automatic semi-final qualification that comes with finishing in the top two.
A gripping South African derby in Pretoria saw the sides score two tries each but the Sharks will rue conceding two yellow cards and some wayward place-kicking that cost them 13 points.
A closely-contested first half came to an end with the Bulls leading 13-8 but it would have been all-square had the visitors been more accurate from the kicking tee.
The Sharks started the second half strongly and held the lead until Jano Vermaak scored a match-winning try in the dying minutes.
A MornÃ© Steyn penalty opened the scoring but it would be the Sharks who crossed the whitewash first thanks to an inspired effort from Lambie. The young playmaker – playing his 50th game for the Sharks at inside centre – cleverly chipped ahead as the visitors attacked from deep in their own 22, Lwazi Mvovo then turned on the gas to sprint 70-odd metres before finding Lambie up in support for a great try.
Lambie missed the very kickable conversion however leaving the door open for Steyn to kick the Bulls back in front after Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis was sin-binned for stupidly using his elbow to settle an argument.
Lambie did however land his next effort when the Bulls were penalised on the deck, but the hosts struck right back as Steyn's pin-point accurate kick-pass found Bjorn Basson out wide and the wing bolted home for his first try of the season.
Steyn's conversion took the scores to 13-8 and a missed penalties from Riaan Viljoen and Lambie meant that is how the scores remained until the interval.
There was no mistake from Lambie as he twice split the uprights soon after the restart – once after Dean Greyling was penalised at scrum time and then when Flip van der Merwe made a late tackle – to put the team from Durban ahead by a single point at 14-13.
Odwa Ndungane extended the lead when he collected Butch James's kick out wide and raced home for the Sharks' second try but again Lambie send his conversion effort wide.
Needing seven points to get back in front, the Bulls started turning down kickable penalties as they laid siege to the Sharks line, but the visitors' defence held firm through an extended barrage of big Bulls runners to head into the final ten minutes with the lead.
Unable to strike from close range, the Bulls grabbed the winner from long distance with eight minutes left on the clock as Vermaak emerged from a frenetic spell of loose play to collect Jurgen Visser's grubber ahead and race home to score under the posts.
The ref had been playing advantage for a terrible high tackle by James and the former Springbok fly-half was sent to the sin bin as the Bok incumbent converted the try to put the Bulls ahead at 20-19.
Viljoen had a chance to win it for the Sharks with the last kick of the game, but once again sent his penalty effort wide, meaning the Bulls go into the final weekend in pole position.
Tries: Basson, Vermaak
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 2
Tries: Lambie, O. Ndungane
Pens: Lambie 3
Yellow cards: B. du Plessis (14th min – foul play); James (72nd min – high tackle)
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter (c), 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Grant Hattingh, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Jurgen Visser, 22 MornÃ© Mellett.
Sharks: 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Patrick Lambie, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Butch James, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Wiehahn Herbst, 18 Jandre Marais, 19 Keegan Daniel , 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)