The Sharks conceded their first defeat of the Super Rugby season on Saturday, going down 23-19 to the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
The Sharks nevertheless retain retain top spot in the standings after the Chiefs lost to the Force earlier on Saturday.
In a match where the margin for error was always going to be minimal, the Bulls showed greater composure when their opponents enjoyed the ascendancy and it was evident that the injection of more experience to their pack of forwards helped them remain calm in situations where they had previously panicked.
As far as derbies go, this one lived up to all expectations as the level of physicality was as on par with what is experienced at Test level while tactical decisions by the respective coaching boxes also had a significant influence on the flow of play.
The Sharks experienced some mixed emotions in the opening quarter as they were jubilant after scoring the first try, while also depressed as they watched their starting half-back pairing leave the field injured.
The visitors struck as early as the seventh minute through Willem Alberts following a splendid line-break by Cobus Reinach.
Reinach managed to off-load to S'bura Sithole who set up a ruck close to the Bulls line. From there the home side's scramble defence failed miserably with JJ Engelbrecht rushing-up and leaving the overlap for Alberts to dive over.
Prior to their first score fly-half Patrick Lambie left the field with a mystery injury and was replaces by debutant Tim Swiel while Reinach limped-off shortly after the try leaving Charl McLeod to do the hard work.
The Bulls would eventually get off the mark with a penalty conversion by Jacques-Louis Potgieter in the 15th minute - from which they seemed to find their rhythm following a somewhat sluggish start to proceedings.
This lead to a period of sustained pressure and far more enterprising play by the Bulls who then cut the deficit down to one point as Potgieter slotted a drop-goal for his team's second points of the evening.
Despite the improved continuity with ball in hand, ill-discipline would cost the home side with Man-of-the-Match Frans Steyn as accurate as ever from 60 metres out.
Steyn slotted a second penalty before the break to restore the seven point lead the Sharks enjoyed at the start of the match.
Heading into the second half with a 13-6 lead, the men from Durban would have anticipated the Bulls fightback and although managing to turn possession over through regulars like Bismarck du Plessis, the failed to counter the inevitable second half surge.
The Bulls tradition of being at the most dangerous in the first 10 minutes after half-time was confirmed when Jacques du Plessis scored his first Super Rugby try from what should have been a standard first channel decisive effort by the Sharks.
The bulky flanker broke two tackles and with Potgieter's conversion the scores were level.
JJ Engelbrecht then finishes-off after Bjorn Basson displayed an amazing turn in pace to cut through an unsuspecting Sharks backline.
Bjorn was stopped metres from the Sharks line from where the ball was flung wide by Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
Suddenly, following the conversion, the Bulls enjoyed a seven-point lead.
From a penalty won at scrum-time by replacement Dale Chadwick, Steyn added his team's first points of the half to make it a four-point match with little more than 13 minutes left to play.
Another uncharacteristically poor decision by the Bulls at the breakdown - Du Plessis deciding to play the scrum-half - allowed Steyn to line-up another long range penalty to make it a one-point game with 10 minutes remaining in the contest.
The replacement of the Sharks props was one of the best tactical decisions Jake White made on the night as the pair would again win a penalty at scrum-time that could have put their team in front.
But on that occasion Steyn opted to go for the line and set-up an attacking line-out.
This turned out to be a crucial error on judgment from the visiting side.
Steyn received the ball just outside the Bulls 22 Steyn and attempted to get his side ahead with a drop-goal, but his failed shot meant that his side was driven back into their own half.
With time running out and desperation setting becoming a huge factor, the previous accuracy the Sharks enjoyed at the tackle area fell away and replacement pivot Handre Pollard kicked-over a 77th minute penalty to seal the win for the Pretoria outfit.
Tries: Du Plessis, Engelbrecht
Cons: JL Potgieter 2
Pens: JL Potgieter, Pollard
Drop: JL Potgieter
Pens: Steyn 4
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Grant Hattingh, 19 Jono Ross, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Handré Pollard, 22 Ulrich Beyers, 23 Morné Mellet.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Andre Esterhuizen.
Venue: Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Television match official: Deon van Blommenstein (South Africa)
By Michael Mentz