The scrum has not always been the most highly-rated aspect of the Bulls play, but it was that set-piece that snatched a last-minute 19-16 win for them over the Sharks in a Super Rugby match at Kings Park that most people will remember for the controversial red-carding of both Schalk Brits and Akker van der Merwe.
With the match all-square at 16-16, the Bulls produced a massive scrum in the 80th minute, winning a penalty which flyhalf Handre Pollard slotted, his record of five-out-of-five when it came to kicking for poles making all the difference as his opposite number Robert du Preez only succeeded with two of his five kicks at goal.
It would have been a frustrating result for the Sharks, who probably played the better rugby over the 80 minutes. Their frustrations had already boiled over in disturbing fashion in the 57th minute when Van der Merwe used his head to try and clear Brits at a ruck, with the veteran then trying to protect himself and shove his opposite number away with his arms. Brits did make contact with the back of Van der Merwe’s head with one flail of his arm, but it was with the back of his hand and should be seen in the context of the flying headbutt he was victimised with.
The two hookers then grappled on the ground and Van der Merwe unleashed a barrage of punches. Both players, were, however, red-carded by referee Mike Fraser in an extremely poor decision that just boiled down to soft officials not being willing to make tough calls.
Who was the star(s) in this match?
The Sharks went into the break 6-3 down at halftime but were definitely the most dangerous side inside the opposition 22, with the selection of Aphelele Fassi at fullback producing a particularly inspirational display. In the second half, outside centre Lukhanyo Am took centre stage and was in sublime touch as he threatened the Bulls defence every time he touched the ball. It was his sensational break that led to fellow midfielder Andre Esterhuizen’s try in the 71st minute that levelled the scores. They were probably the two best individual players in a match that never rose to any great heights.
Key moments and themes
- The dour first half was also due to the poor refereeing of New Zealander Mike Fraser, who barely allowed a scrum to be completed or any breakdowns to be fairly contested. The officiating certainly did not contribute to the spectacle of what should have been a great South African derby. The Sharks had the better scoring chances with the Bulls twice being saved – firstly by the TMO ruling a blade of whitewashed grass had touched the ball thus disallowing a try because the ball was out and then when the Sharks were hard on attack but were penalised for accidental obstruction after the halftime hooter.
- It was not exactly a game that filled one with confidence in terms of the Springboks’ inside centre options but Andre Esterhuizen and Burger Odendaal set up tries for their teams in the first 12 minutes of the second half. The Sharks started superbly after the break, launching a sweeping move that saw numerous great hands, including Esterhuizen’s fine pass out wide, tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen’s deft offload, a strong carry by Tendai Mtawarira and then the finish by eighthman Dan du Preez.
- The Bulls had also owned the Sharks in a 61st-minute scrum but referee Fraser instead gave the penalty to the home side, allowing Robert du Preez his second successful kick at goal. The visitors undid the damage when a powerful rolling maul earned a penalty kicked by Pollard six minutes later (16-11).
- An exciting last 10 minutes was set up by Am’s brilliance and the Esterhuizen try, but the Bulls have an aptitude for making sure they are in the right areas at the crucial times, and another Pollard penalty, after an enormous scrum, stole an important victory in the South African Conference.
Bulls – Try: Jesse Kriel. Conversions: Handre Pollard. Penalties: Pollard (4)
Sharks – Tries: Dan du Preez, Andre Esterhuizen. Penalties: Robert du Preez jr (2).